Your Last Email & Testament – What Happens To Your Data When You Die?

what happens to data when you dieI know it’s a morbid subject, but the reality is that we live in a virtually immortal society. While our bodies may cease to exist, our virtual profiles go on appearing in emails, automatic notifications, and even advertisements. To the living, this can be a bit depressing, and in fact, when my grandfather died, the first action I took was to delete his Facebook account to protect my family’s morale.
But what will you do to make the transition process easy on your loved ones? What happens to data when you die? Will you just let things take their course, or will you set up a post-death data management plan? Below are a few tips and solutions offering details as to what you can do.

How To Handle Social Accounts

what happens to data when you die
Most people are concerned about their social accounts after death, and rightly so. With automatic updates and emails like “so-and-so likes this product – so should you” and “what’s-his-face has Tweets for you” there is reason to be concerned about how your “social ghost” will affect loved ones.
Facebook, as you may know, offers a couple of options - memorialization or deletion. With memorialization, your account will become a virtual ode to your life. As for deletion, no one will see or hear from your account ever again. All Facebook requires of the person notifying the company is to provide some sort of proof of death.
As for Twitter, things are a bit more complicated and formal. A death certificate and the messenger’s government-issued ID are even necessary! Of course, this is done as a preemptive measure to keep pranksters from deleting live accounts. In the end, just make sure that someone is around to tell your social media accounts about your death.
This covers your social media accounts, but for those of you worried about your email address, MakeUseOf actually has already covered how this can be handled.

Social Account Information Ownership

what happens to your data when you die
One important question people often have is this - who owns my intellectual property? Well, Facebook’s policy states that they have the license to use your posted IP until it or your account is deleted. That said, in the event that you may have posted some important information (privately or publicly), you may want to arrange for your account to bite the dust.
That was probably a poor choice of words. I’m sorry.
As for Twitter, there’s really no issue. The service’s ToS blatantly explains that Twitter respects your copyright. Since the whole website is about sharing public links, photos, and statuses, I wouldn’t say there is much to worry about at all.

Oh, And About Your Files And Storage…

what happens to your data when you die
Let’s be real – any bit of data you left on your hard drive is going to stay. That stands unless you have developed some high-tech device that monitors your heartbeat, designed to detonate a small series of explosives embedded within the drive when your body shuts down. Unfortunately, we’re not all as handsome and innovative as Tony Stark, are we?
If you want your files found, properly storing them might best way to have them handled. For instance, my grandfather left a bit of his cash in a Shakespeare anthology. He made it clear to me that this is where the money would be found in the event of his death rather than haphazardly tossing it in places around his home.
By not carelessly shoving away your files into random folders, you can help your loved ones find what you want them to find. Use your Documents, Pictures, and Videos folders for what they are intended for, and do everyone a favor – clearly label files. For files that you don’t want found – well, that’s up to you. Either have a designated deleter or place these files in the less-traveled areas of your computer.
Regarding your most important information, it would be best to place it on the cloud (whether that be Google, DropBox, or iCloud). Keep the access information safe yet accessible when you pass on.

It All Comes Down To Preparation

what happens to data when you die
To be clear, we live in a world where digital property is  just as important as physical property - PayPal information, e-banking information, email accounts, social accounts, digital photos…I’d suggest creating a digital will that you can leave behind to your loved ones. No, this isn’t a humorous play on words that I concocted. It’s actually something very real (and kind of cool). Included should be account information, hard drive access details, computer passwords, and smartphone passcodes.
Furthermore, keep an inventory of all this information in a spreadsheet file. Add a column for special notes when they apply – for instance, where do you keep your external hard drives? Include the location. Print off a copy every single time you update it, and store it in a safe place. Heck, print off multiple copies and also put the file in the cloud for safe-keeping. If you want, let at least one trustworthy family member knows where this file is at all time. Else, just include the access information in the digital will.
Besides a designated person, you can use services such as If I Die or Death Switch to release your information upon your passing.


Ultimately, the best way to prepare for the future of your digital identity upon death is summed up into one word – preparation. Futuristic heartbeat monitors don’t exist on the mainstream circuit, so it’s up to you to decide how everything will end up.
How will you what happens to your data when you die? Have you ever taken the release of this information into consideration? What other methods would you suggest?