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What happens to your data when you die?

What will happen to your email, digital docs, music, photos, Facebook, Twitter and other online accounts when you go to your final reward? You need a plan for this.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 1, 2013 1:37PM

This post comes from Karen Datko at partner site Money Talks News.


MoneyTalksNews logoEstate planning has gotten a bit more complicated, so I recently made this mental update:

  • Have a will: Check.
  • Have a durable power of attorney: Check
  • Have a health care power of attorney: Check
  • What about all of digital stuff, like photos, Facebook page, Twitter account? Uh-oh.

I bet I’m like many of you in that I have made no post-death plans for my digital life and possessions. 

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has some advice to help people plan for the disposal or distribution of these items. Watch it, then read on for more details:


I do have this one covered. I recently made a copy of all of my passwords and put them in the special place the executor of my will knows to look upon my expiration. Don’t put them in your will, which becomes a public document. Your passwords should be shared at the end only with a trusted friend or family member who has been instructed on what to do with these accounts.

Note: Having the passwords is essential. With some digital assets, your survivors won’t be able to access your accounts without them.

But what do I want done with all of my online accounts? You need to spell this out in a detailed memo to the executor of your will or to your heirs. Make sure someone is in charge of handling this.

In fact, suggests you create a separate “social media will” with an executor, and provide that executor with your user names and passwords, and specific instructions about what you want done with each account. We’re guessing the government means an informal document that won’t be filed at the county courthouse for everyone to see.

Online accounts

In general, you need to read the terms and conditions of each site you deal with to find out what can be done with your online presence after you die. But here are some of the major ones.

Google. This is the coolest solution by far. Google’s Inactive Account Manager feature lets you decide whether to pass your Google data -- including YouTube -- to your designated heirs or to kill it out after a preset period of inactivity. A warning is sent out so you can stop the deletion if you’re still alive.

Woman sitting on steps with smartphone © Image Source, Image Source, Getty Images

Yahoo. Your heirs have no rights here. Its terms say: You agree that your Yahoo! account is non-transferable and any rights to your Yahoo! ID or contents within your account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your account may be terminated and all contents therein permanently deleted.

Microsoft.  We found this information on a Microsoft forum post from last year, before Hotmail was retired from service.

The Microsoft Next of Kin process allows for the release of Hotmail contents, including all emails and their attachments, address book, and Messenger contact list, to the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated account holder and/or closure of the Hotmail account, following a short authentication process. We cannot provide you with the password to the account or change the password on the account, and we cannot transfer ownership of the account to the next of kin. Account contents are released by way of a data DVD which is shipped to you. (Microsoft is the publisher of MSN Money.)

Facebook. You can have your account memorialized, which allows your Facebook friends to share their remembrances, or you can have the account deleted. The person making the request must provide proof of their relationship to you and proof of your death. Facebook, by the way, has an If I Die app that will posthumously post a video or post, sharing your final thoughts. Does that sound appealing to you?

Twitter says, “In the event of the death of a Twitter user, we can work with a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased to have an account deactivated.”

There are services that are willing to store your user names and passwords and also your important documents. Among them:

  • Legacy Locker. This paid service allows you to store your passwords all in one place and pass them on to your designated beneficiary after you take a dirt nap. You can also store important digitized documents there. There’s a very limited free trial account. The full service costs $30 or a one-time $300 fee.
  • SecureSafe. This company, which acquired Entrustet, includes data inheritance among its services. The price ranges from free to $12.50 a month.
  • Another one is AfterSteps.

Have you had to manage a digital legacy of someone who has died? Do you have any other suggestions for our readers? Share them on our Facebook page.

More on Money Talks News:

13 ways to get more Social Security

6 ways to have more money when you retire

Ask Stacy: How do I get a will on the cheap?

Jul 1, 2013 2:58PM

My goodness, how terribly important. What happens to your online stuff when you die?


Email - people who know that you died won't email you anymore. People who did not know you died will not get an answer to their emails.


Facebook - you will no longer be required to comment on the photos that your acquaintances post of their babies every five seconds. [Isn't that what 85% of Facebook really is?] Since you will no longer be posting updates ["I just had a ham sandwich"; "I just went to the bathroom"], your ten million acquaintances will forget you. Win-win situation!

Jul 1, 2013 3:24PM
When I die it's somebody else's problem. I really don't care. Won't affect me.  Let them try to figure out my passwords. Computers are so nice.
Jul 5, 2013 4:16PM
It's amazing how many people comment on websites to trash an article they chose to read on their own.  

I have stage IV cancer (staples still in my head from craniotomy #2.  It was melanoma on my ear, stage 1 when I caught, but I am basically paying for playing wiffle ball in the 70's.)

 I have two girls in carseats and I'd rather not have my future widow (not yet 40) worry about on-line banking passwords, family pics, etc.   I'd like to ease some stress for her.

I printed a list of all important websites, passwords, bills, loans, etc..  My brother knows it's  in my nightstand drawer so he can help my wife.

One more thing-I don't want, need, or expect pity.  Just please make sure children in your life are careful with the sun.  Wear hats, sunblock, seek shade, whatever.  Just be safe.
Jul 1, 2013 2:29PM

What happens to your data when you die?


It's auctioned off to the highest paying relocated witness program and they become YOU.

Jul 1, 2013 3:48PM
This has to be the dumbest story from someone supposedly with "tech" skills. It's digital and online. It ends when you end.
You wouldn't believe how many people don't plan for the truly important things before they die. Passwords and Facebook pages are not essential. Grow up or at least hire a grownup.

Jul 1, 2013 4:02PM
If this is even a concern to anyone, your life is a hollow shell and you deserve pity.
Jul 1, 2013 3:45PM
As long as someone you trust has this information, no problem. He/she can just sign on as if it were you and take care of business.
Jul 1, 2013 6:31PM
Jul 2, 2013 10:07AM

"What happens to your data when you die?"


Facebook picks it clean and then sells it to the highest bidder in order to try to boost their collapsed stock price. They then keep sending you friend requests because as we all know, Facebook isn't about making billions of dollars selling your most personal information, it's about social connectivity.

Jul 1, 2013 5:29PM
If it has any value, the washinton Taliban (NSA) will get it.  If it has no value, it will stay there for a time specifed by the Taliban and then be trashed. 
Jul 5, 2013 3:29PM

death doesn't seem to stop direct marketers from continuing to send solicitations to us & our heirs.  

Jul 1, 2013 7:58PM

Now...why would I (or anyone, for that matter) give a flying fuque about what happens to the digital "me" when I croak? All my *important* stuff (my bank & credit union) have my next of kin's/beneficiary's information. As far as FB, Twitter, et al, they can kiss my ashes


Like my momma says, "IDGAF...I'll be dead."

Jul 5, 2013 3:30PM
I have the answer to their question. Who cares what happens to my data when I die.
Jul 5, 2013 4:14PM

My ashes have been thrown in the state park, over the river, so I suggest that's where you come to ask me, "WHY THE HELL HAVEN'T YOU ANSWERED MY EMAILS?"



Jul 5, 2013 4:06PM
Hey when do we get our GPS chips implanted? You know the one with " ALL " your personal info on it. So the big boys can keep track of all of us.
Jul 5, 2013 5:17PM

Yahoo accounts will self-destruct after a period of non-use. I have had a couple do that when I quit using them. Actually I believe most on-line social accounts will do need to check with the providers.


But it is a good idea to keep a written list of user-names and passwords in a safe place so that someone you trust can get in and delete then close all on-line accounts. Other wise, you just really never know what may be out there that would affect your heirs in the future.

Jul 5, 2013 4:18PM

You're kidding, right?  This has to be the dumbest thing I ever heard of.  I'm dead ... how can I access my accounts.  No activity, no problem ... it's dumped after time!!!

Jul 5, 2013 4:26PM
I'm taking it with me to that Spirit In The Sky , simple !!!
Jul 5, 2013 6:21PM
It won't matter, because your dead.
Jul 5, 2013 5:50PM
Your data becomes information to create fake liberal voters.
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