How to prepare for your digital afterlife

Do you know if you want to leave it up as a way for people to leave messages about you or would you like it to be closed down? (MGN Online photo)

(WHAM) - It's estimated that four out of five Americans have at least one social media account.

"It's very easy for us to think of them as something that's not very important, something that we don't care if it disappears,” said Evan Carroll, co-author of Your Digital Afterlife.

What happens when we disappear? When we die?

"We see that many of their friends actually use their Facebook profile as a memorial. They continue to post there, they continue to use that space as a way to remember them,” said Carroll.

In his book Carroll explores what happens to our digital possessions when we're gone.

"They are a place where people who have lived a full life online have a lot of content, a lot of memories and people turn to those to remember the deceased,” he said.

That was the case for Charles Wachal.

"My wife lived out her life on social media,” said Wachal.

His wife, Shannon, passed away in 2014. When Facebook memorialized her page he had trouble accessing videos she left behind.

"I want them for 10, 15 years from now so my daughter can watch them and know who her mom was,” said Wachal.

Eventually, a grateful Wachal got access to his late wife's account and the messages she left behind.

"Losing somebody so close to you hurts, but it's going to be OK. It's given me so much comfort to see the wisdom that she had,” he said.

Carroll says Facebook now recognizes this issue. The social networking site allows users to setup a legacy contact. That person can look after your account after you die, share a final message, respond to friend requests and update your profile picture and cover photo.

Instagram will also memorialize an account with proof of death. Twitter will de-activate accounts for those who have passed away.

"As more and more people live their life online, as we're seeing more and more people who've been online for a significant part of their life pass away this is only going to become a more important issue,” said Carroll.

Carroll estimates 972,000 Facebook users died last year and that more than a million will pass away this year.

"As time goes on, more and more people, who have been on social networking sites for 10, 20 maybe even 30 years are going to start to pass away. Those are the people who are going to have robust digital lives that need to be dealt with. In fact, more of their personal memories and mementos may be digital than physical,” said Carroll.

Carroll says you can include language in your will for your social media profiles. It also helps to write down your logins and passwords for a family member.

Carroll says if nothing else, at least have a conversation with your loved ones about what you want to happen with your social media accounts when you die.

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