What happens to our digital lives after we die?

Our digital lives do not end when we die. Social media accounts, domain names, blogs, websites and Facebook business pages can become digital assets for our businesses. Most any agent could use my blog for prospecting and they could interact with the people who "like" my real estate business page. Business partners could continue to harvest leads from them or they could be sold to another business.

We have personal social media accounts too that live on. My Twitter account is branded with my own name, as is my personal Facebook account, Flickr account and foursquare account.

Buried in the "terms of use" that we agree to for most online accounts is information about what will happen to the account if we die. But most of us just click "agree" without reading the 20 pages of fine print.

Flickr is my favorite social media space and I am very active on it. I was not pleased when I read that my account is not transferable and there are no survivorship rights and that Yahoo would terminate the account upon my death.

My account would be automatically downgraded to a free account unless someone paid to keep it a pro account. Once it was a free account it would automatically be deleted after 90 days of inactivity. If Yahoo were notified of my death they would delete my account immediately. Most if not all social media accounts are eventually automatically deleted if no one signs into them.

Twitter is a little friendlier than Yahoo. If a Twitter user dies, Twitter will help family members back up the account and save the tweets and delete the account. They will not give anyone the password.

Facebook gives heirs the option of deleting an account or having it "memorialized," which restricts access to confirmed friends and allows them to post on the deceased user’s wall. Anyone can request that a Facebook account be deleted or memorialized by showing Facebook a death certificate or obituary — they do not have to be related to the deceased, or have permission from the estate.

YouTube wants proof of death and proof that the person wishing to access the account has power of attorney, and they will allow the account to continue under new ownership. It is nice to know that my video has a future.

Google actually has instructions on how to access a deceased user’s Gmail account. They require a death certificate and proof that the person wanting to access the account has the legal authority over the estate to do so. I know more than one agent who uses Gmail as a primary business account. I suspect that buyer and seller leads and spam continue to be collected in the accounts even if the owner has died.

Death is a fact of life and for some the business can live on and be run by a family member, business partner or brokerage. Our families will not know what to do with blogs, websites and email accounts when we die, and most of the accounts will simply expire when we stop paying for them. That is really a shame when you consider how long it takes and how much work it is to gain traffic and page rank on the Internet.

We also have PayPal accounts, iTunes accounts and Kindle accounts. We have music, books, data and even money stored in the cloud.

There are several services that are designed to handle digital assets after death, and none of them is very expensive.  Instructions can be stored as to who inherits the accounts along with passwords and user IDs.

Some of the services, like Legacy Locker, also include document backup for storing critical electronic documents. The services are designed to help family members or business partners access our digital assets and delete them or deal with them in a manner that we would hopefully approve of.

There are websites dedicated to "digital death" and even conferences on the topic. There are legal issues surrounding our digital identities like digital property rights and, apparently, the right to end our digital lives when we die.

Our digital lives tend to take on a life of their own. Our families and business associates may be left with a digital mess after we are gone unless we give them some password and instructions, or use a service.

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