Readers of the blog here in California may have noticed some entries regarding the growing concern about what happens to a person's online digital content after they die. Most people in the digital age have at least some measure of information online, which may include things like social media accounts, picture-sharing programs and even things like online accounts with certain financial and retail entities.
The growing concern is that this information, much of which can be very private in nature, may exist in perpetuity, even after a person has died or become incapacitated. Google has recently introduced a tool to help people control what happens to their data when they die. The concept is somewhat similar to a power of attorney, or POA. Google allows the person to designate certain trusted individuals who may be called upon to make decisions about what to do with the person's online data.
Google's new tool for managing what they call the "digital afterlife" will contact certain people the person has listed after a certain period of inactivity, and allow them access to photos, documents and other content based on the deceased's preference. These designated representatives are then given the ability to delete or share this data or information, as so ordered.
Now that people are realizing the importance of these digital assets, it is important that people plan for their management as part of their estate plan. In addition to using tools like Google's new offering, they may want to go further to protect their online assets by prescribing a power of attorney for specific purposes. People may choose to leave online access passwords and usernames with their will, along with specific directions for how to handle this information.
Source: The Saratogian, "Google releases tool to manage online data after death," Hayley Tsukayama, April 15, 2013.