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How to Manage Your Digital Afterlife
By: Maryann Fabian
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A good friend passed away a year and a half ago. I miss her dearly and little things still remind me of her every day. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also her Facebook page that’s still up. And her LinkedIn account asking me to endorse her.

Is our online presence meant to live on after we go just to haunt others?

No one likes to think about death. Even after tragedy strikes and we’re reminded of our mortality, it’s still not likely we’re thinking about our “digital afterlife.” Yes, one of the most forgotten aspects may be what to do with the online accounts of people who die.

Google, however, wants you to think about it. “[M]aking plans for what happens after you’re gone is really important for the people you leave behind,” said Google product manager Andreas Tuerk. It recently developed a tool to let you decide what happens with most of what you’ve accumulated online. The not-so-cleverly-named-but-accurate “inactive account manager” will let you set up a will of sorts for your Gmail, Google+, Drive, YouTube, Blogger, and Picasa accounts.

You can choose to delete your data after three, six, or 12 months of inactivity or bequeath it to specific people. You can even give your attorney the power to go through emails first (think of all those businesses that send you notifications, like your bank, 401(k) and healthcare provider). Then think of all those pictures you put up on Picasa.

“We hope this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife — in a way that protects your privacy and security — and make life easier for your loved ones after you’re gone,” Tuerk added.

Inactive account manager also works if you’re not deceased but merely, well, inactive for any reason. And, it will try to contact you first by text or your secondary email, just to make sure you didn’t switch your service to Outlook. (Hey, it can happen.) You can find the tool under “account settings.”

Here’s hoping this spurs some thought from those other big brands that hold our personal stuff.

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About the Author
Maryann Fabian is a copywriter who has crafted the voice of some of this country's best brands.
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