An Unwanted Afterlife
What happens to your social media after your death? Who, if anyone, will control your digital assets? This question has been asked to us before as once we had a client unexpectedly pass away. Given all the online privacy laws and social media terms of service agreements, this is a valid concern. Its impact is felt not only by loved ones left behind but others in your professional network. For a business, this becomes a concern, as it affects continuity, marketing messaging, and a potential PR nightmare. In this post, we’ll share our thoughts on how to prepare for the inevitable: how to handle your social media after death.
Organize Your Digital Assets
Hopefully, you have a business continuity plan for key functions like accounting, customer service, etc. But many smaller businesses don’t. While it’s easy to have the big things set up, like who will take over the office if you die, the small things are important too.
For example you may also have multiple users for important systems — bank accounts, QuickBooks, time & project management, social media management, etc. — with various credentials. If you have sole access to a system, think about how you will safely store usernames and passwords so they could be accessed by someone in the event of something unfortunate happening to you. The point here is to create a process where authorized users can gain access to your social media after death or in the case of an emergency.
Here’s a suggested way to categorize and organize your assets and accounts:
- Hardware – laptops, desktops, and anything with a hard-drive including flash drives, iPods, cell phones, cameras.
- Software – programs like MS Office, Quicken or QuickBooks, tax prep programs and filed tax returns.
- Social Media – all digital assets like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, website, online backup sites (e.g., Dropbox).
- Financial – account information related to day-to-day operations as well as long-term savings, retirement, investment accounts. Also, include shopping sites like Amazon or Office Depot where your business credit card information may be stored.
- Email System – whether you use Google Apps or Outlook on the cloud, have these credentials available for when quick changes need to be made.
At Spectrum, we use the LastPass system, that helps to record all of your passwords and also strengthens them. This system itself needs a password to log in, but as one password can give you access to many others it would reduce the amount of information you need to save in the event of a death or illness. Making it easier than keeping a file or spreadsheet of passwords up-to-date elsewhere.
Name a Successor
Most Americans don’t like to talk about death. That’s why 66% don’t have a will or an estate plan in place. Sadly both Massimo and I are connected to an individual who died in 2012. Facebook still suggests that I reach out to him; LinkedIn wants me to endorse his skills. It is a sad reminder that our online presence lasts well into the afterlife. How weird is it to get messages via social media after death… creepy to say the least.
Notification via Social Media After Death
Forbes ran a story a few years back about NPR’s Scott Simon who live-tweeted his mother’s death from her hospital bed. I guess the good news is that he actually talked to his family first. Beyond the issue of TMI or horrific situations like the recent “Facebook Killer“, it raises the question of how you notify others on social media after a death.
In the age of Facebook posts, tweets, and LinkedIn updates… a notification of a person’s passing is still a sensitive message that needs careful consideration and crafting. Making sure bios are updated and other key facts close at hand will help make these notifications less awkward.
A Social Media Will
Some forward-thinking estate planning attorneys are integrating the idea of a digital estate into their documentation. Whether the estate plan is strictly personal or related to a business, I recommend having “the conversation” with those around you. Certainly handling your social media after death will be easier and less stressful. If 66% of Americans don’t have a regular will, I imagine the number of Americans who have a social media will is pretty small.
Who will you appoint to be your online executor?
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