Preserving your digital legacy (or what you may have left out of your estate plan)


Many people take great care in planning so their wishes can be carried out after they die. These same people invest considerable effort in forming trusts and other vehicles to preserve wealth. How about their digital life? This is not about intellectual property, it is about connections with other people.


As I have always advised, it is irresponsible not to have a list of your important passwords. Your email account may be necessary for the people who carry on after you. Access to banking and many other services may depend on these passwords. While it is a good idea to change your passwords regularly, you can still keep a current list on file with an attorney or stored securely in a safety deposit box.

Social Media

With the explosive growth of social media services like Facebook there many be many people that you interact with on the Internet that you do not see in real life. It is very common for people to be Facebook friends with someone that they do not regularly see or talk to.

If you want a message left, for example, on your Facebook profile saying what happened to you that is something you should express to someone close to you. Your immediate family and friends may not be aware of the people you interact with regularly in you “digital life”.

You may also want to make sure no one posts anything inappropriate. I have personally seen people make negative comments online about the death of someone in a callous manner. I doubt these same people would say that to the face of a grieving loved one. Internet tough guys aside, maintaining access to a social media profile can prevent feelings from getting hurt.

While I have not had to complete this process personally, I believe there are ways to get access to accounts by providing the respective companies with a death certificate.

Facebook will allow you to memorialize a page so it remains up and people can no longer make changes or post to it. If you wish you could also delete it completely.

Google, for example, provides several ways to recover an account that you do not have the password for. If you did not take the time to set those measures up, then it may be difficult to get access.

Memorial Web Sites

You also have the option to create a memorial website for someone. When my friend, Matt Coutu, was killed in Iraq I immediately registered his name as a web site and put current news and information as it came in. I put it up for my friend as a memorial as it was all I could do for him at the time. 6 years later the site still gets traffic. As time went on I learned some things by watching the visitor traffic to the site. For example, on patriotic holidays and his birthday traffic would go up. While it may not be appropriate to memorialize everyone in this manner, if you are a notable public figure it may be a good idea.

Think about the recent passing of Steve Jobs. If you happened to visit the Apple web site you would see that they established a page for people to share condolences. As of today over a million people sent in memories and thoughts. I am sure Steve thought it through and it happened as he wished.

Steps to Take After the Fact

Try to recover account passwords for what you can.

The primary email account should be the first thing to recover. Using that you should be able to do password resets for many services.

You should monitor the email account for a period of time. In many cases it makes sense to forward it to your own account so you do not need to remember to check it.

Social media accounts should be a priority. You may want to see what people are saying or you may need to moderate content.

People typically publish obituaries through newspapers. Many of these papers use a service like will create a guestbook for people automatically due to their relationship with newspaper publishers. People across the country or around the world may go on and post their condolences. Their terms may change at any time, but typically they leave a guestbook up for a person for a year or so. They allow the option to pay to keep the guestbook up indefinitely. Many times this is done by a friend or relative anonymously. You should periodically check for new postings.


A little bit of prior planning can make life easier for those you leave behind. Many people take great care to protect their monetary assets and property but fail to recognize the importance their passwords and email account can have.

If you have recently lost someone close to you I hope this article will lead you on the path to "digital closure".

About the author

Bob Lindquist is an expert consultant with extensive experience building web sites, databases and performing internet marketing work for his clients.  He has over 20 years of experience working with clients from a wide variety of industries along with a degree in Computer Science.  Bob is a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

In his free time, Bob is a volunteer Firefighter / EMT and has served on the boards of several not-for-profit groups.

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