From emails to dating, what happens to your online accounts after you die

Different companies have different legacy policies. Source: Getty.

Nowadays we are expected to upload an increasing amount of data onto the Internet as banks, retailers and even government services push towards digital-first transactions – but do you know what happens to your endless online accounts and profiles when you’re no longer around to access them?

Many people understandably want their personal details to be wiped after death, however some families prefer to keep their loved ones’ social media accounts open and active so family members and friends can look through their photos and continue to post messages on their wall, or even on their behalf.

Unlike your material possessions, however, what happens to your digital belongings is not quite as clear cut and there are not yet laws in place to protect your wishes, despite some people beginning to pen ‘digital wills’.

Starts at 60 has put together a breakdown of the legacy policies enforced by some of the biggest digital companies, including Facebook, Google and Match.com.

Emails

If you use Google’s email service, then you are able to specify a deadline for your account to be considered ‘inactive’. For example if you choose a three month deadline, then after two months of inactivity Google will send an email or text reminder. If you still have not accessed your account by the cut-off point, then your ‘trusted contacts’ (you can list up to 10 people) will be notified, and your data will then be shared with them if you have chosen to do so.

Yahoo asks that the next of kin send a letter to request the closure of a deceased user’s account, which states the Yahoo ID of the deceased, as well as a copy of the document appointing the requesting party as the executor of the deceased’s estate and a copy of the account holder’s death certificate.

If you have a Microsoft email account (Hotmail, Live, MSN, or Outlook), family members will need to use Microsoft’s Next of Kin process in order to gain access to your account data. Microsoft will release your account data, including emails, attachments, and your address book, to your next of kin on a DVD. But they will not receive your password or be able to access your account.

Twitter

Twitter does not allow you to grant access to anyone else when you die, however a loved one can request the closure of the account by completing a privacy form. Otherwise, the only other option is to leave the account as it is. 

Facebook

Facebook allows users to add a legacy contact – someone you nominate to look after your account if it’s memorialised. To add a legacy contact, go to your account’s general setting, select ‘settings’ and click ‘manage account.’ Type in a friend’s name and click ‘add’. To let your friend know they’re a legacy contact, click ‘send.’

Families can choose to close down or ‘memorialise’ accounts so certain features, such as birthday reminders, no longer appear. Families can ask Facebook for access to some of the account’s content, such as photos and friend requests, but they will not see private chats.

Dating profiles

One of the biggest online dating sites Match.com doesn’t have a clear cut policy about death and deletion, so anyone wishing to close down a deceased relative’s account should submit a request to the company. While eHarmony.com specify that the legal executor should contact them to ask for an account to be shut down.

My Health Record

You still have until October 15 to opt out of the government’s compulsory My Health Record scheme but, if you choose to have an electronic medical record, here is what will happen to it after you’ve passed away.

Your medical documents will be retained for a period of 30 years after your death or, if the date of death is unknown, for a period of 130 years after the date of your birth. Any family members, as well as health care providers, will then only be able to access your My Health Record if authorised to do so by law. Nothing else can be uploaded to your record after your death, however the government may still access your profile for “purposes of maintenance and audit”.

Are you worried about what will happen to your data? Have you spoken to family or friends about closing down your accounts?

 

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