What happens to your online presence when you die?

Most people assume that a family member or another designee will handle our physical belongings and liquid assets when we die. But what about our online affairs?

Who will respond to important emails, pay our online bills and deactivate our Facebook account so it stops notifying friends every time a birthday comes around?

In the Internet age, our online legacy lives on after our deaths. It presents problems for technology companies and their customers, who might not have considered their online afterlife until they experienced complications when a friend or family member died, leaving their Internet presence alive and unattended.

As companies such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo fret about user privacy concerns, families are finding it surprisingly difficult to delete a person’s online presence even if that person is no longer alive.

While Yahoo’s policy is to have the death certificate faxed in before shutting an account, other sites are even more stringent about allowing access to a deceased user’s account.

For LinkedIn, friends or family can request a deceased user’s account be closed by filling out a “Verification of Death Form” on the LinkedIn site.

Facebook has a policy to “memorialize” a page for any deceased user, which renders the page private except to family and friends. To request that a page be memorialized, a family member or friend can simply link to an obituary or news article.

To actually delete a profile page, however, a family member or executor must submit proof of their relationship with the deceased before getting further instructions. It’s unclear what additional documentation would be required to shut down the profile.

While this all seems a bit gruesome, this is the world we live in now. Sites must require proof of death, after all, without proof anybody could claim a death and shutdown an account.

This provides more evidence that the novelty of the internet has worn off and has become a serious and fruitful way to have social interactions, communicate with family, and conduct business. With new emerging technologies making their way out of basements all over the world each day, there is sure to be a market for handling your online life, even after death. If not, that’s what family is for.


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