data management

What happens to your data when you die?

Your digital life is only taking on a larger footprint as we embrace the cloud. And while it’s not a fun topic to discuss, it is important to consider what will happen to your data after you die. Just like your business should have a data backup recovery plan or a disaster recovery plan, it’s important for you to have a plan for dealing with your data after death.

You want to think of your digital assets in a similar way to your physical ones. You probably have a will and a beneficiary. You may have instructions for who gets what and how you want your assets divided.  But even if you include a provision your digital assets in your will, that may not be enough to allow the appropriate people to access them.

That’s why it’s important to create an inventory of your data now (even the stuff you don’t think is important) and make sure you’ve taken any steps necessary to allow access by authorized individuals.

Here are some of the different types of data you need to consider.

Financial data

Bank accounts are the most straight forward data to consider since they behave the same way as they did before becoming digital. Access to the accounts online and offline is granted through a will or to co-account owners who were already listed on the account.

Photos, videos, and music

Generic data storage like Dropbox will allow access to anyone who can prove legal rights to it (usually with a will and/or legal document granting access to the data). However, if you have a large iTunes account of songs or movies, no one else will be allowed the rights to it. iTunes Terms of Service explicitly rules out rights of transference. This is the norm for services that allow the purchasing of digital media. One way to work around this limitation is to set up Family Sharing ahead of time to give access to your loved ones or business associates.

Email & Social Media accounts

Email services will generally give access to those who request it upon proof of legal rights. Google actually goes further and allows for users to set-up its Inactive Account Manager to automatically give access after a set amount of time when the account becomes “inactive.”

Social media accounts can simply be closed by anyone with the login credentials. Some services will allow you to set a “legacy contact” who is authorized to make decisions regarding the status of your account upon your death. For example, Facebook has an In Memoriam feature that converts the whole account into a memorial account.

Local data

Your computer, phone, any other devices may be the most challenging to access since no one but you may have the password. Consider keeping passwords written down and stored in a secure location (like a safe deposit box) that only your beneficiary is able to access.

In conclusion

Take stock of your digital life and make a list of all of your important accounts. This is where a password manager can be exceptionally helpful. Consider a generic data storage option for any data that will need to be accessible. Then make certain you include digital accounts and assets in your will.


Lastly, think about who you would want accessing your data in the first place, some of it may be sensitive. Lastly, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with how to manage all your digital life, consider contacting your magaged IT services provider for help.