What happens to your family pictures and all of your
other digital assets
after you die?
This past week, millions of people got together with their loved
ones to celebrate Thanksgiving. The food was good
and the conversation interesting. In many cases,
the events were memorialized in picture and video…much of
it immediately uploaded to the web so that family and
friends could enjoy and share the occasion.
Of course, Thanksgiving isn’t the only time that
precious pictures are taken and uploaded. Weddings,
births, favorite trips and many other momentous events are
memorialized in photos and uploaded to the web. Many
people don’t bother to print out photos on paper.
Only the digital images survive.
So what happens to this family history after you die?
And while we are on the subject, who controls your
GMAIL/Facebook/Yahoo accounts when you are gone?
Digital Death Day, holds an annual conference to talk
about these issues.
The questions are new and the law is developing, but
here are few things to keep in mind.
First, most social web sites are controlled by agreements that you
accept into when you create your account.
Some of the agreements dictate what happens to your
account after you die.
For example, Yahoo’s agreement provides that accounts
are not transferable. Facebook’s policy is different.
Facebook has a
form that can be filled out that will cause a Facebook
profile to go into a Memorial State. Certain profile
sections and features are hidden from view to protect
privacy. Logging in to the account is prohibited, but
confirmed friends are able to see the profile or find it
via a search, and are able to leave messages on their wall.
Photo Sharing Sites
Lots of people use photo sharing sites to store and
share photos online with family and friends. Two of
them, Picasa (hosted by Google) and
Flickr (hosted by Yahoo) each provide that your account terminates
when you die. In both cases, presenting a death
certificate means no more access to photos.
that the account will be closed and account contents will
Some may be already familiar with the story of
Justin Ellsworth, a 20 year old US Marine, who died in
Iraq. His family spent many months battling Yahoo over
their right to receive copies of Justin’s email
Although Yahoo was sympathetic with the family’s
request, they denied access to the emails citing the terms
of use agreement. Justin’s father went to court and
finally won an order compelling Yahoo to deliver the email
Of course, some of this confusion could be eased if
loved ones had a record of usernames and passwords. Then
accounts could be opened and emails could be read, photo’s
downloaded and saved elsewhere. Once all was in order, the
services could then be notified of the death and the
In fact, the idea of safeguarding usernames and
passwords while making them available to loved ones in the
future has created a whole new line of business. Several
articles have been written about companies such as Legacy
Locker, Entrustet, and myestatemanager, which have been
formed to help people manage their digital assets after
death, allowing specific usernames and passwords to be
sent to different people depending on your wishes.
As always, the best way to succeed is to have a plan.
For those precious Thanksgiving Day photos, be sure
that someone you trust has access to the account after
you’re gone so that an important piece of family history
is not simply lost with the click of the delete button.
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