By some accounts, over 10,000 Facebook users die every year and multiple studies show there are currently over 30 million dead people who still have a Facebook profile. If you’ve been on Facebook any length of time just take a look at your list of friends. I’ll bet you may see a few dozen friends whose Facebook profiles or accounts are in limbo after their passing.

While many people have prepared wills for their earthly possessions, many people never consider what will happen with their digital data and who might inherit it. Or if that’s even possible.

Google, Facebook, and Apple have tools designed to make it easier for families to access their deceased loved one’s account But it has to be set up ahead of time.

Apple allows its users to set up what it calls “Legacy contacts”. You’ll find it in settings under password and security. Select your contacts and send them a QR code as an access key. Should you pass away, they can use the key to request access to photos and other data. You can also print out the QR code and leave it in your estate planning documents.

You may already be familiar with Facebook’s legacy contact tool but it has to be set up ahead of time. Go into your settings to find and set up a legacy contact. Facebook will contact them by email and Messenger to let them know you’ve named them your legacy contact and whether you’d like to discuss it with them.

Upon your passing, this contact can manage posts on your profile, can update your profile and cover photo, and request the account be memorialized or removed. They will not be able to post anything as you. This is important because if a Facebook profile is not managed or checked from time to time, the newsfeed can become cluttered with spam and friend requests.

Without setting this up in advance, the family member will have to jump through more hoops to memorialize the account and could not download Facebook data such as photos for posterity. They’ll have to submit proof they are related to the deceased and provide a death certificate as proof of death to gain access to the account. This can also take a long time to be approved.

Again, the settings for Apple and Facebook must be set up ahead of time and by the account owner. Without it, you’re putting a burden on your family and friends with the responsibility to memorialize the accounts.

It also gives them the ability to download photos, data, contacts, and email without needing a username and password.

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