Preparing Your Online Life for Death

What can you do to help your family or friends manage your online presence after you die? Depending on your level of activity online, you may have dozens of different accounts. And some sites may not have policies in place to deal with your account after your death.

One thing you can do is designate someone to be in charge of your online accounts after you die. You'll need to create a list of your user names and passwords and put it in a safe place. A few companies will store that information for you, usually for a fee.

One of those companies is Legacy Locker. The company offers three plans. You can create a free account and store up to three assets (e.g., login information), designate one beneficiary to retrieve those assets should you pass away and write a Legacy Letter. Legacy Letters are messages the company will deliver to designated recipients after verifying that you've died.

Or you can set up a paid account. For $29.99 a year, members can store an unlimited number of assets and designate as many beneficiaries as they like. There is no limit on the number of Legacy Letters they can create. They can also use an online document backup system and upload videos to the site for others to watch after they pass on. For a one-time fee of $299.99, members can create an account that will remain active without the need for yearly payments.

Besides Legacy Locker, here are other companies that will store information for you and release it to designated individuals upon proof of your death. And while online services offer convenience, they may not be as secure as you would like. After all, you're storing all of your login information with one service. If a hacker should get access to the company's files, he or she would be able to access all of your login information you've stored. That might include everything from social networking profiles to online bank accounts.

You don't have to rely on a third party if you prefer to maintain your own list of login information. In fact, there are several ways to encrypt your data, and you could give the decryption key to people you trust. You could also designate an executor to your online property in your will.

So, what to do with a dead user's information remains a tricky subject. Most social networking sites allow users to post comments and messages to each other, but who owns that data? Is it the recipient, the sender or the company? If you've left a message for someone and they pass away, can you retrieve it? These are questions most sites have yet to address.

Even though companies are beginning to acknowledge the problem of what to do with your data once you die, most of the responsibility falls to you and your family. It's not a lot of fun to think about but a little consideration could save your loved ones from experiencing hours of frustration on top of their grief.

Find out more about social networking sites by following the links on the next page.