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Gini Dietrich

Protecting Your Online You After You Die

By: Gini Dietrich | April 19, 2012 | 
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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

65 comments
NancyCawleyJean
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!

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

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! ;)

AdamBritten
AdamBritten

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.

Dave Z
Dave Z

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

 

http://davezan.com/what-happens-to-com-domain-names-after-you-go.html

 

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!

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Robert Murphy (Jitsu PR)
Robert Murphy (Jitsu PR)

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!

margieclayman
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.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

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. ;-)

RichardHarrison
RichardHarrison

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.

KelByrd
KelByrd

I have previously considered using Entrustet.com  - 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'

TheJackB
TheJackB

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.

Latest blog post: Pools of Blood

rosemaryoneill
rosemaryoneill

I blogged about this subject on @lizstrauss  website a while back (http://www.successful-blog.com/1/be-prepared/) 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.

bradmarley
bradmarley

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. :)

Andrea T.H.W.
Andrea T.H.W.

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. :)

Latest blog post: Intuition VS Sixth Sense

JessicaNorthey
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??

PS

I still want someone to wear a Scream costume to my funeral. That IS going in my will too.

 

 

 

 

 

AdeleMcAlear
AdeleMcAlear

Thanks for the heads up @Shonali . Indeed, I've been researching and speaking on this topic for almost 4-years (http://deathanddigitallegacy.com). 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!

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

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

BethMosher
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. 

geoffliving
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.

bdorman264
bdorman264

Me and Eddie http://ow.ly/anUfh  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...........

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @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).

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @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?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

JessicaNorthey
JessicaNorthey

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

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

@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!!

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