- Written by Bob DeLaurentis Bob DeLaurentis
Imagine losing access to your phone and all the data you ever created. If that thought scares you, read on.
The terms “digital legacy” and “digital inheritance” describe what happens to digital information created by someone who is deceased.
Buried beneath the tech-speak is a very simple idea: Your digital information contains precious family photos, important PDFs, vital passwords, social network identities, and perhaps much more.
As more records exist only in digital form, those records may be stored on devices that relatives may not know how to access.
Moreover, every software update further blurs the line between where data is actually stored — either on-device or online.
Many people may have already unknowingly created a situation where their personal data will be lost when they die.
Leaving behind the password to your phone is a good first step, but it is not enough. With a little careful planning, you can secure your accounts and make it much easier for family members to preserve your digital legacy.
Let’s take a look at three of the most used services: Apple, Facebook, and Google.
Apple’s Digital Legacy Program
Apple’s Digital Legacy program is very new. It seems polished, but I would not be surprised if you encounter a few rough edges. It also does not have many options.
If one of your devices has the latest software update (iPhone/iPad 15.2, Mac 12.1), you will be able to designate up to five people in your contacts list as legacy contacts.
When you choose a contact, the device will generate a code to give the designee. By using that code along with a copy of a death certificate, your designee can request access to your account. From there, they will be able to retrieve any valuable data or delete the account.
The entire process is a bit easier to set up if your designee is also an Apple user, but that is not a requirement. Nevertheless, I recommend finding someone who already knows iCloud if at all possible. Otherwise, leave instructions on how to retrieve the most important data.
To find out more about the scope and requirements for Apple’s Legacy program, visit support.apple.com/en-us/HT208510.
Facebook is a bit easier to set up because everything is stored online and can be accessed from just about any device. However, Facebook also allows an account to be converted into a memorial, which enables your digital presence to remain online long after you have passed.
Your first step is to visit Facebook Settings & Privacy > Settings > General > Memorialization Settings.
From this page, you can choose another Facebook user to take charge of your account. The page will explain the available options. They include deleting the account and managing any activity that occurs after your last post. You should contact your designee beforehand because Facebook will confirm the setting with the designee right away.
Google’s Inactive Account Manager
Google’s legacy settings are known as the Inactive Account Manager. This tool has been around for years, and it has a number of options. For example, it can be set up to activate under a number of different circumstances.
Within your Google account settings, search for “inactive” to reveal the Inactive Account Manager, or select Data & Privacy, and scroll down to find the item named “Make a Plan for Your Digital Legacy.”
Click the Start button, and the Inactive Account Manager will step you though a number of decisions on how and when you wish Google to take actions on your behalf.
Control over your email account is especially important, because most password-recovery tools require an email password to reset. You should consider your email account as a sort of indirect master key to your digital assets. Keep that in mind when telling Google when to grant access to your account.
Apple, Facebook, and Google probably cover the largest group of important accounts for most people, but they are only a starting place.
Not every service has legacy settings, but, at the very least, you should leave behind a list of your accounts, passwords, and a brief overview of what they contain.
If you are the person who set up your home network, be sure to include info on base station passwords and service providers.
Pay special care with accounts with backup services like Backblaze, storage lockers like Dropbox, and any other social networks, such as Twitter and Instagram. Also, leave special instructions for any accounts that use two-factor authentication.
Data inheritance can be a complex topic. Hopefully this article will help get you started. You can learn more from the Digital Legacy Association (digitallegacyassociation.org).
Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.