Google Making It Easier for People to Tend to Digital ‘Estates’

It’s worth considering estate planning in terms of non-financial concerns: issues such as health-care planning, couples counseling and volunteering that can be squared away when thinking about a comprehensive estate planning strategy.

However, there are some other “assets” that many people have that they might not think to account for. Most people these days have a wide range of online accounts that contain information that is, to them at least, valuable. This could include personal items such as photos, songs, videos or other media that in the past might have been stored in a drawer or in an album.

Perhaps more crucially, digital interests include email addresses and passwords to not just social media accounts but also bank accounts, credit card accounts and other financially sensitive information. Until recently, there were few good ways for people to ensure what happened to this data after their death.

Google, however, is looking to change that. It is rolling out features that allow its users to dictate where data should go after a period of inactivity. This way, if someone doesn’t log into their account for a specified amount of time, such as a year, then Google will pass the user’s information along to the person they specify.

The system isn’t comprehensive — it wouldn’t allow your survivors to email using your address, for example. It simply provides people with access to the data you determine in advance. It seems likely that other online giants will come up with their own strategies to allow users to determine the fate of their data in the not-so-distant future.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Google Lets Users Plan ‘Digital Afterlife’ By Naming Heirs,” Geoffrey A. Fowler, April 11, 2013