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What to do with digital life after death?

One of the most challenging questions we face in this life is what to do with our possessions when we pass on. For some people, the answers are fairly straightforward: they want to distribute wealth to a surviving spouse and children. For others, answers are more complex.

But the digital age we live in complicates matters further. Consider what happens to your digital life when you die. What happens to your social media accounts and content, e-mail accounts, your YouTube videos and all the rest after you pass? 

Several states have begun to sort these questions out with statutes, but California is not yet among them.

The director of internet ethics at Santa Clara University’s Center for Applied Ethics says our ever-expanding digital presence gives us “this new problem we didn’t used to have.”

She notes that it’s not as if your social media accounts are transferred by the state to your spouse or kids upon your death, but rather the individual companies have their own policies about what to do with those accounts.

In 2013, Google introduced a new feature called Inactive Account Manager, which enables users to tell the company what to do with their Gmail messages and other Google digital remains. The user can designate up to 10 people to receive the afterlife data.

But to access the YouTube account of a deceased user, an heir must have power of attorney (YouTube is owned by Google).

Twitter doesn’t give families access to deceased users’ accounts, while “a MySpace user's account dies with them,” a columnist writes about the digital afterlife.

An online presence gives everyone an additional factor to ponder as they go through the process of estate planning with an attorney.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, "Companies struggle with how we live on in the digital afterlife," Michelle Quinn, Feb. 28, 2014

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