This is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
What happens to all your online data after your demise? What will become of your email messages, your personal blog, the files in Google Drive or Dropbox or any other cloud-based file storage service? How about the pictures stored online or the videos you uploaded to YouTube? Will they be lost forever, or is there a way for your family and friends to access them after your demise and to save their own copies?
Many of the online services we use every day have no contingency plans for a deceased customer’s heirs to take over the account and save whatever is online for posterity.
In most cases, the online service(s) you use will never know that you have passed away. Most services simply delete your account and all information in that account after some months of inactivity. For free accounts, the exact number of days varies from one service to another; but, all of them will eventually delete your account and information if you do not log in for an extended period of time. For paid accounts, your information will be preserved online for as long as someone keeps paying the bills. Once the bills go unpaid, the information will eventually be deleted.
In fact, you do not need to be dead before your data will disappear. You could be hospitalized or otherwise incapacitated for an extended period, and the data you worked so hard to collect will eventually be deleted without your consent. In one case I heard of, a person suffered a computer failure and was unable to repair or replace the defective system promptly. Once she stayed offline long enough, her account and all her data disappeared.
To be sure, every online service that holds your data will attempt to reach you before deleting anything. However, they typically will only attempt to reach you by online means. If you are offline for any reason, you will not receive their messages. I don’t know of any of the popular online services that will send a registered, return receipt requested, letter to your “snail mail” address.
Luckily, one online service provides a simple solution.
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