How to Manage Your Digital Afterlife

When writing your will, don’t forget to include access to social media, online photos and more.

Signing Last Will and Testament.
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[Read: 8 Ways to Create Stronger Passwords.]

Upon receiving a death certificate, PasswordBox (www.passwordbox.com) will send all of your information and log-in user names and passwords to your designated digital executor. Small wonder all of these sites have been cropping up. "Five years ago, we were storing photos of our families on DVD, and now they're on an iPad or an iPod or in the cloud," says Dan Robichaud, the CEO of Passwordbox.

You might be able to handle some of your digital passwords on your own, even after you're gone – in a sense. Gmail recently introduced a feature called Inactive Account Manager, which you can set up so that if your account remains inactive for, say, three months or a year, the account will be automatically deleted – or you can have your emails and password information sent to someone you choose.

Much is still being ironed out. Right now, if someone dies unexpectedly, and digital assets aren't accounted for in a will, "typically," Perez says, "no one will be able to access their online accounts, and these digital assets go into a kind of limbo. Some states have tried to pass laws giving the executor of a person's estate the ability to take control of digital assets as well, but these efforts have met with varying levels of success. As a result, the law in this area is still unclear."

[See: 12 Steps to Designing Your Financial Roadmap.]

In the meantime, "the best way to get these digital issues resolved is for the public to petition the companies to respond and come up with solutions," says Charles Palmer, executive director of the Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania.

In some cases, even if a loved one has a password, it can be technically illegal to use it, some experts have noted, simply because the terms and conditions state that nobody else is allowed to use the account.

Palmer also makes an observation that avid Facebook users and Facebook executives might not appreciate: "This is an issue, but companies are working on how to manage our digital assets after we die. And who knows what problems we have now that won't even be an issue in a few years? With the speed of how fast technology changes, it may be that five to seven years from now, there isn't a Facebook."