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What to do with digital data after death

A comprehensive estate plan deals with many aspects of passing on assets upon one's passing. This may include physical assets (e.g. automobiles, real estate), heirlooms and memorbilia, as well as monetary assets (e.g. life insurance proceeds and retirement accounts).

Indeed, a good estate plan will account for everything in a person's life, but what about digital data that may be left behind? It bears noting that many baby boomers and generation X'ers have considerable amounts of emails, photographs, and work product stored on public (and private) servers. Also a growing amount of information is being stored on cloud-based storage systems.  

Tech-giant Google is creating new offerings to answer this question. It recently announced the development of its "Inactive Account Manager." Essentially, the program will give an account holder the power to assign someone to be the custodian of stored data. While it may not be seen as a groundbreaking innovation compared to some of its other products (it's autonomous car, for example) the Inactive Account Manager represents a step beyond traditional policies regarding abandoned and dormant accounts.

These are important considerations not only for emotional closure (or to preserve a person's memory) but also to prevent fraudulent use of a posthumous email or social media account.

Even if you don't have a Google account, you can still make plans for how your digital data should be handled. Essentially, you can assign someone who has the power to communicate with Internet service providers to extract information or formally close accounts.  

It is foreseeable that questions (or even disputes) over digital data will increase, as more people post and keep pictures online through social media outlets.


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