Gini Dietrich

Protecting Your Online You After You Die

By: Gini Dietrich | April 19, 2012 | 

Earlier this week, I was waiting for the plane to reach 10,000 feet and killing time by reading American Way.

In it was an article about e-state planning, or preserving your digital legacy for after you die.

How many of you have thought about this? I mean, seriously thought about what happens to your email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest, Posterous, blog, website, on and on and on accounts after you die?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a friend who has died and then tweeted me a couple of days lately. Clearly he had scheduled tweets or Tweet Old Post installed, but it’s still extremely jarring for those of us still on earth.

And, as it turns out, there are legal and ethical pitfalls around not having your online you taken care of when you die.

Let’s set aside the obvious brokerage and bank accounts that should be included in your will (along with usernames and passwords stored in a vault like Legacy Locker). Most of us have partners, spouses, or family who already know that kind of information (unless you have a secret account in the Bahamas).

And let’s assume you’re not Stieg Larsson and have a fourth book of the Millennium Trilogy nearly finished, but you die before the manuscript can be handed over to your publisher. Do you really want your estranged family fighting your common law wife over who is the rightful owner?

Those things are pretty obvious and, while morbid, something you really should be considering.

But I’m not talking about the obvious things. I’m talking about your digital assets.

Jessica Northey jokingly posted on Facebook a few week ago that she was looking for someone to manage her Twitter and Facebook accounts in the event of her untimely death. Of course, I volunteered, which set ablaze a list of fun things you could say (“Man! Michael Jackson really is white!” or “I expected chocolate and rainbows up here and all they have is Pabst Blue Ribbon”).

For those of you with substantial online business interests (myself included), the stakes are very high. Even if we own domain names, these all expire and someone could easily take advantage if you’re not here to renew.

Maybe it’s not a big deal to you and your online legacy can die with you (or a few days or weeks after you), but if you want to preserve your blog, website, or any other assets (if only so future generations know what it was like living in 2012 before flying cars), this is something to get going, morbid or not.

Get it written into your will – who will manage the accounts, what you want done – and make sure that person knows where to find the most recent username and passwords (which you’ll have to update every time you add a new digital asset or change your password).

Hopefully Jessica takes this advice and I’m soon the heir to her accounts.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I’ve got a number of things in place so I will continue to tweet after my demise. But I guess I should find someone to post original content for me. Maybe I’ll have a contest…I’ve already got people jockeying to take over for me on Facebook for a day or so.

    • ginidietrich

       @KenMueller How did I miss out on this?? I WANT IN! But you’ll have to make sure it’s all written out somewhere or we may not get the chance.

      •  @ginidietrich Well my wife certainly doesn’t want to take it over. She just wants my insurance money!

        • ginidietrich

           @KenMueller Put me in coach!

  • Seems one London-based entrepreneur has the same idea. Check out and grab your user name!

    • ginidietrich

       @SimaSays Ha! I hadn’t seen that one. Thanks!

  • I figure heaven is wireless so I plan on keeping in touch and guiding the way for those I leave behind. And the spammers, they will all be in hell, so the quiet will be blissful.

    • ginidietrich

       @annelizhannan LOL!!! I wish I’d said that in the blog post. Hilarious!

    •  @annelizhannan Thanks KelByrd, I take it you will be coming with me 😉

  • katskrieger

    There was a recent On The Media episode featuring the post-mortem social app that posts in your preferred social network. Wild stuff.

    • ginidietrich

       @katskrieger Can you pre-write things to be posted? I don’t know if that’s funny or really morbid.

  • Timothy Leary was the first to bring this to light. When he was dying of cancer he decided he wanted to have himself basically uploaded to the web so he would ‘live’ forever.

    He has a facebook page and a web initiative still working
    Which is amazing considering he died in 1996 when Win95 was ruling the web and Netscape was still the major browser!

    • ginidietrich

       @HowieSPM WOW! I didn’t know that. It seems a little bit narcissistic. 

  • Hmm, this is interesting topic to be sure. Certainly, I have business interests and objectives tied into my social properties. Looking back over the past year, we’ve lost some prominent names in the social space to suicide. Perhaps there are some lessons there? 
    And as much as I discuss the permanence of our digital footprints, there’s something to be said for the legacy contained and transmitted through the analog. 

    • ginidietrich

       @jasonkonopinski The article in American Way discussed that – we think everything lives forever online … and it does, in a sense. But let’s say I die and someone wants to take over Spin Sucks. If I don’t have someone on my team or in my family poised to renew and keep it going, they could very easily do that and my legacy would be gone.

  • Me and Eddie  will be hanging together; we will be managing everyone else’s accounts. 
    Something definitely to think about, I just don’t think I’m quite ready to tell the wife about ‘our’ money though………………..just sayin’…………I have had two people I know die that are still ‘out’ there in social to a certain degree. It is somewhat disconcerting at times.
    Of course, I only have one password; thegreatone!@# so the wife should pretty much be able to access everything. Don’t tell anyone the password though………..

    •  @bdorman264 There will soon be a time when everyone’s password will be “GiniRocks”. That day is coming soon…

      • ginidietrich

         @KenMueller  @bdorman264 Um, everyone at AD has that password. Ask lisagerber 

    • ginidietrich

       @bdorman264 How many times do I have to tell you not to talk about that publicly?? Jeez, Dorman.

      •  @ginidietrich I’m not good at keeping a secret, am I? 

  • geoffliving

    Scary to think about this, but it’s true. Even in a simple will.  At the same time, leaving a site up can be touching and a place for people to convene. I think we saw that when Trey passed away last year.  So sad. So nice for everyone to see how much he really was loved, and I think thebrandbuilder will testify that his family saw that, and it mattered to them, even just a little.

    •  @geoffliving  thebrandbuilder I never met Trey face to face, but had engaged with him for some time. I know that his passing prompted a new examination of relationships in the digital space. jaybaer wrote a particularly poignant piece (Alliteration FTW!) on the subject. 

    • ginidietrich

       @geoffliving  I think that’s the point – you want to have something up to continue your legacy, but if someone close to you doesn’t know how to access the files and accounts, it could very easily get taken over or, well, die.

  • BethMosher

    Such an interesting topic. My mother-in-law recently passed away and while she was by no means a social media maven, her FB account is still ‘living.’  She frequently has sisters and friends that will still write to her and tag her in FB, which is creepy to me and my husband. Clearly, we needed a plan in place. 

    • ginidietrich

       @BethMosher It feels a little creepy to me, too. But maybe it’s a way they cope? I don’t know.

  •  adelemcalear has actually done a ton of work/research on this – tagging her for her info/input! But yes, this is something I think about and need to really get on top of.

    • ginidietrich

       @Shonali  Me too. Kind of like a business continuation plan. I need one of those too.

  • By the time I die, I’m pretty sure wifi & iPads will be abundant in heaven

    • ginidietrich

       @SociallyGenius HAHAHAHAHAH!! LOL!

  • AdeleMcAlear

    Thanks for the heads up @Shonali . Indeed, I’ve been researching and speaking on this topic for almost 4-years ( There are many pitfalls, both legally and technologically, for planning for and managing digital assest after death. You are right to mention domain names and blogs and the need to plan for their longevity, particularly if they bring passive income from advertising or affiliate links, or if they have made a significant contribution to your profession. Most hosting and domain renewals are linked to a credit card. When that card is cancelled after death, there is no  way for the renewals to take place. You must also decide how your estate will pay for these things after you are gone. Talk to you spouse, your friends, your family and  your lawyer. Make sure what you want to be preserved is planned for. Make sure that income gets to your heirs. Make sure what’s important to you is communicated to those who will take care of your affairs after your passing.
    Thanks for addressing this Gini!

    • ginidietrich

       @AdeleMcAlear  This is really interesting and something I think needs to reach the audience here (small biz owners, PR and marketing pros). Would you be game for authoring a guest post as a follow-up to this one?

      • AdeleMcAlear

         @ginidietrich Sure thing! I’d love to. I’ll pop you an email to discuss. And, thank you.

  • JessicaNorthey

    Great points Gini. Sadly, I lost 4 friends in the past month. 
    And talk about throwing salt into a wound….they all participate in Social Media.
    One of them had a birthday this week and imagine the shock seeing the reminder on Facebook. CREEPY.
    We quipped on my Facebook about “tweets from the grave”….what they would say from a humorous standpoint BUT there is no way I was prepared to see a nudge to say happy birthday so soon.
    So sad. so very sad. Can only imagine what his family felt.
    I don’t even know who I would give all my passwords to??
    I still want someone to wear a Scream costume to my funeral. That IS going in my will too.

    • ginidietrich

       @JessicaNorthey I’ll TOTALLY do it…assuming I’m still here.

      • JessicaNorthey

         @ginidietrich i wonder if you can find the Scream costume in pink. >>> now *THAT* would be even cooler.  LOVE YA GAL.

        • ginidietrich

           @JessicaNorthey Love you back!

        • @JessicaNorthey Darn you @ginidietrich why did you have to be so quick to volunteer, I wanted to play the roll of the scream guy! I call understudy. But nice to see a virtual PDA between my two favorite SM heroes!!

        • ginidietrich

           @SociallyGenius  @JessicaNorthey  You have to be quicker on the draw! I’m at 35,000 feet so you can’t blame spotty Internet.

  • Interesting post Gini. Honestly I’m not interested in what happens to my accounts, for the little I use them there’s really no need, except Twitter maybe. But obviously I am about my website. Food for thought. 🙂

    • ginidietrich

       @Andrea H. | The Hypnotism Weekly Definitely for your website, particularly if you’re making any passive income from it.

  • Getting a tweet from a recently deceased friend would freak me the you-know-what out, but these are all valid points.
    As someone who keeps putting off writing their will, I think it’s high time I started. And I’ll definitely consider my digital assets, as well.
    Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    • ginidietrich

       @bradmarley It DOES freak you out. It’s not normal. But I do think there’s validity in preserving your blog and any websites. We make money from ours…I want that to continue going to my family if I have a cycling accident (not that I think about that…ever).

  • I blogged about this subject on lizstrauss  website a while back ( because of how traumatized I was when my friend Imad Naffa passed away and he continued populating my social stream for quite a while before his family sorted things out.  It’s so hard to think about, but really necessary if you’ve got an ongoing presence.

    • ginidietrich

       @rosemaryoneill  And not only if you have a presence, but if you have a blog that is monetized. You want to be sure the money you’re making still goes to your family.

  • It is a new world. During the past three years some of my friends died but their Facebook accounts are still live.
    Family members keep them going and periodically they and friends will leave notes to the dearly departed. It is kind of surreal to see them. You look at their account and see all of this activity from them and then it just stops.
    They are like these crazy snapshots in time.

    • ginidietrich

       @TheJackB I’m undecided if it’s creepy or interesting. I suppose it provides family and friends a way to keep memories alive.

  • KelByrd

    I have previously considered using  – a “free, secure online service that helps you organize and prepare last wishes for your digital assets” – you may have just gotten me to actually sign up.
    I do keep a document with my log in and passwords, but I’m pretty sure I’d like my digital profiles to ‘go with me’

  • I was thinking the other day that it might be cool to set up an eVite to my memorial service with a date to be determined and send it out to a few thousand folk. Would give me some idea who I could safely eliminate from my friend list.
    I must have ben ahead of the game. I created an accounts list a couple of years ago that has all the info my two kids will need to manage them to a close. It’s kept in a safety deposit box and they have instructions on how to go about getting access. Should work but of course I can offer no guarantees.

    • ginidietrich

       @RichardHarrison I actually really, really love this idea. This is one of those things that if you’d extended it beyond your own stuff into a business, you might be filthy rich now.

    • ginidietrich

       @RichardHarrison I actually really, really love this idea. This is one of those things that if you’d extended it beyond your own stuff into a business, you might be filthy rich now.

  • I actually have an exit strategy to remove myself from the web within a certain timeframe from now. I know roughly when it will be and what will happen – it’s been interesting planning it and making sure I have all platforms accounted for. 
    I’d rather have an early exit strategy than having the rug pulled. 😉

    •  @DannyBrown Sneaky, sneaky. 🙂 

    • ginidietrich

       @DannyBrown Is it tomorrow?

  • margieclayman

    This was actually brought to my attention because I was looking for a blog post by a person now deceased and discovered their entire website was gone. I thought that was really sad. If you put a lot of heart and soul into your writing, it’s a shame that there’s no way to preserve that after your site (and you) expires. It is quite the conundrum.

    • ginidietrich

       @margieclayman I’m with you – I want this blog to live beyond me. It’s my legacy. I would imagine yours is even more so. 

  • StorchMurphy

    Really interesting post Gini.  One of my best friends and business associates passed away two years ago and I still find reminders of him online.  Family took his FB page down, but his LinkedIn profile is still active and I imagine he probably has a million invitations sitting there.  I doubt his family even knows to look at LinkedIn.  While sad, I do enjoy still seeing his name every now and again. At first it was jarring, now it’s just comforting.
    I’ve not actually done any planning, because I hadn’t considered it until now.  Good thought-provoking article. Thanks!

    • ginidietrich

       @StorchMurphy I think it would be really comforting to those “left behind” after a while. It’s definitely something to think about.

  • yoursocialfans

    Buy Facebook Fans to Raise Website Traffic @ YourSocialFans.Com
    Facebook is one of the usually social websites in a present world. You will be able to Buy search engines plus from the innovative manufacturers. They will be extremely dedicated into introducing every one of the purchasers using the best facebook blowers web page. They make an impossible face-book tag in the fan web page website. This is often designed by the use of the iframe situation. There are so many issues designed. A few of them could be the ad images; add facebook blowers, customized tabs and many other things. Buy Facebook Fans therefore you will making your facebook fanpage look completely exclusive and exciting. 

  • I actually once wrote something about this a year or so ago, about domain names this time:

    I think I’ll revisit it soon, now that you wrote about this especially involving social media. This is practically one of those things one doesn’t exactly like to think of, yet ought to at least prepare for if it’s really important for them.
    Thanks for blogging about this also!

    • ginidietrich

       @Dave Zan And thank you for the link to yours…it’s definitely something we should all be thinking about.

  • I’ve always sad after I die I want my Facebook deleted, my Twitter to remain intact, and my friends to try their hardest to get #AdamDied trending.

    • ginidietrich

       @AdamBritten LOL!! That’s good to know…I’m pretty sure we can make that happen.

  • aboutucomm

    Great post!Thanks for sharing with us

    • ginidietrich

       @aboutucomm You bet!

  • Ah, jeez. As if I need one more ‘grown up’ thing to do in my day. This is yet another shocking reality that our world has and is changing so quickly. I actually really like Danny Brown’s idea of pulling the plug early; however, life never cooperates with our own plans and would pull the plug before we can.  I will indeed put some thought into this. I just mastered a system for keeping all of my passwords up to date – this should be a breeze! 😉

    • ginidietrich

       @EricaAllison It’s kind of morbid, right? But definitely something we need to think about, especially if we make money online and/or want our legacies to live on so our kids and grandkids have a diary of sorts.

  • NancyCawleyJean

    Definitely not something we want to think about, but we need to! Especially for those if us with a spouse who dislikes all that is social! Thanks for the reminder, Gini!

  • Pingback: Kintsugi, Innovation, and Organizational Democracy by @jasonkonopinski | Spin Sucks()