Skip to main content

If anything is sure to survive you, it's your online identity, drifting aimlessly along in virtual space. But who owns it, and what happens to it?

Now the U.S. government (no word from ours) is urging its citizens to designate an "online executor" in their wills – someone who will know what you'd like to happen with your e-mail addresses, social media profiles, blogs and pictures once your physical self has moved on. Do you want your Facebook page turned into a memorial site where families can continue sharing memories? Your blog removed?

As The Atlantic magazine's Rebecca Rosen reports, this may be no small task. The average person, according to Naomi Cahn, a law professor at George Washington University, has 25 password protected accounts. Since many passwords are changed regularly, your will must be kept up to date. In addition, Dr. Cahn observes, wills are public record, so putting your passwords in them also make those public. Better to create a trust, or share them informally, she suggests. (Of course, you have to remember the passwords yourself.)

Story continues below advertisement

In February, a New York politician introduced proposed legislation that would officially recognize online executors. And you can also pay to assign the task of wiping your slate clean to sites such Entrustet, Legacy Locker and Data Inherit.

Moneysense magazine also suggests people need to cover off their "digital assets" in their wills – everything from that massive collection of iTunes songs to your photo album library stored online. (After all, you'd want your kids to inherit the family albums, right?) And who gets your loyalty points, or access to the cash sitting in your PayPal account?

"This is an up-and-coming topic," Tina Di Vito, head of the BMO Retirement Institute, told the magazine, suggesting that outlining your wishes and sharing your passwords will prevent loved ones from trying to figure out how to close accounts and sites. According to a BMO study, 58 per cent of older Canadian had digital assets, but hadn't make provision for them in their will.

Of course, it may be that, as with a secret stash of guilty love letters or hidden diaries, you would rather your loved ones couldn't go poking through all your e-mails. In that case, you may want to leave what's hidden, hidden.

Have you thought of who gets control of your online identity when you die?

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.