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Exploring digital immortality: What happens to our online presence after death?

by Legacy Plan
October 23, 2023

As the shadows lengthen and the nights draw in, Halloween beckons us to embrace the eerie and contemplate the mysterious aspects of our existence. It's a time when ghost stories and tales of the supernatural become the currency of the season. But in our modern, hyper-connected world, there's a new kind of immortality and a different genre of ghost stories to consider: the digital kind.

In an era where our lives are as online as they are offline, what happens to our digital selves after we pass away? In the spirit of Halloween, let's delve into the spooky yet serious topic of digital immortality and explore how estate planning is evolving in the face of our expanding online lives.

The digital afterlife: an overview

When we think of our assets, physical items like houses, cars and family heirlooms come to mind. But we live in a digital age, and our assets are no longer solely tangible. They're also digital. Our emails, social media accounts, digital photos, online banking accounts and cryptocurrency investments form a part of our digital estate. And just like physical assets, digital assets need to be managed after we're gone.

However, there's a twist. While our physical selves cease to exist, our digital selves can continue to live on, interacting with the living in a way that can seem uncannily ghost-like. Our social media profiles continue to exist, our emails sit waiting in someone's inbox and our online photos continue to float around in the cloud. We become, in a sense, digitally immortal.

Social media accounts and digital legacies

Digital immortality is the concept of storing a person’s entire digital identity and presence online so that it can be accessed by anyone, at any time, regardless of the person’s physical location or state. This includes everything from social media profiles and posts, to email accounts, online banking information and even digital copies of important documents like birth certificates and driver’s licenses.

person at laptop looking at his online profile

The idea of digital immortality has been around for nearly as long as the internet itself, but it has taken on new urgency in recent years as our online lives have become increasingly intertwined with our offline ones. As more and more aspects of our lives move online, the question of what happens to our digital presence after death becomes increasingly important.

There are a number of factors to consider when exploring the issue of digital immortality. First, there is the question of who owns our digital identity after we die. Are our social media profiles and accounts our property to do with as we please, or do they become the property of the companies that host them?

Second, there is the question of how our digital identity should be managed after we die. Who should have access to our accounts and information? And what should happen to them? Should they be deleted entirely, or should they be preserved as a way for loved ones to remember us?

Finally, there is the question of whether or not we should want to achieve digital immortality. There are a number of advantages to having our digital presence survive after death, but there are also some potential disadvantages. Only by careful consideration of all of these factors can we begin to understand what digital immortality might mean for us, both individually and as a society.

Preparing for digital life after death

When we think about our digital lives, it’s easy to focus on the living part. But what happens when we die? What happens to all of our digital assets – our photos, our emails, our social media accounts?

If you don’t take steps to plan for your digital life after death, it could cause a lot of problems for your loved ones. They could lose access to important accounts, they could be unable to access your photos or other memories, and they could even be faced with a huge bill if you have unpaid subscriptions.

Recognizing the value and importance of digital assets, estate planning has expanded to include them. This involves cataloging your digital assets, determining their value and deciding on the future management of these assets. Given the unique nature of digital assets (they're often tied to individual accounts and subject to terms of service agreements), managing them isn't as straightforward as bequeathing physical property.

For instance, what happens to your Facebook account when you pass away? Who has control over your emails? Can your family access your online bank accounts or cryptocurrency wallets? The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) has been adopted by most states, providing a legal framework for fiduciaries to manage digital assets consistent with a user's estate plan. However, the stipulations of service providers still play a pivotal role, and not all digital assets can be passed down.

The first step in digital estate planning is to create an inventory of your digital assets and provide a way for your executor or a designated digital executor to access these assets. This might include providing usernames and passwords, but also instructions for two-factor authentication or answers to security questions.

Booklet opening animation of our free requestable booklet 'Digital Assets and Estate Planning'

The next step is to provide explicit instructions on what should be done with these assets. Do you want your social media profiles to be deleted? Memorialized? Should someone download and save your photos? What about personal emails or messages? These are the kinds of questions you'll need to consider.

Here are some tasks you need complete as you plan for your digital life after death:

  • Make a list of all of your accounts. This includes social media, email, online banking, shopping and any other online accounts you have. Include the passwords for each account.

  • Choose someone to manage your accounts. This should be someone you trust implicitly. They will need to have access to all of your accounts and be able to manage them on your behalf. In many cases, this person is your executor, also referred to as your personal representative, or your successor trustee.

  • Make sure they can find this information. It’s no use having a list of your accounts if your designated person, again typically your executor or successor trustee, knows where to find it. Make sure they know where to look for it and that they understand how to access your accounts.

  • Make sure your accounts are up to date. This includes making sure your contact information is up to date and that you have current backup copies of all of your data.

  • Take steps to secure your accounts. This includes choosing strong passwords, enabling two-factor authentication and taking other security measures to protect your accounts.

By taking these steps, you can be sure that your digital surrogate will be able to access your accounts and data after you die. You can also be sure that they will be able to do so in a way that is secure and that protects your privacy.

Preventing identity theft and preserving privacy

With death comes the risk of identity theft. Deceased individuals' information can be used fraudulently, causing additional distress to grieving families. Part of digital estate planning involves securing the digital identity of the deceased. This includes notifying institutions of the death, closing online accounts and ensuring that credit reporting agencies are aware of the death to freeze the deceased's credit reports.

Most people don’t realize how much of their data is being collected or how it’s being used. And even if they did, they probably wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. That’s because our data is worth a lot of money. Companies are willing to pay good money for our data because they can use it to target us with ads. And the more they know about us, the better they can target us.

This is why privacy is such a big concern for people today. We all want to keep our data private, but we also want to take advantage of the benefits that come with using the internet. For example, we might want to use a social networking site like Facebook to keep in touch with our friends and family. But we don’t want Facebook to sell our data to advertisers.

The good news is that there are ways to protect your privacy online. The bad news is that it’s not always easy, and it’s not always clear who you can trust. But if you’re concerned about your privacy, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

a hacker hidden behind a laptop

One way to protect your privacy and prevent identity theft is to be careful about the information you share online. Think about what you’re sharing and who you’re sharing it with. For example, you might want to limit the amount of personal information you share on social networking sites. And you might want to avoid sharing sensitive information, like your credit card number, online.

Another way to protect your privacy is to use privacy settings and tools. Most websites and apps have privacy settings that let you control who can see your information. For example, you can set your Facebook profile so that only your friends can see it. Or you can set your browser to block cookies, which are small pieces of data that websites use to track you.

You should also be aware of the privacy policies of the websites and apps you use. These policies should tell you how your data will be used and shared. But keep in mind that privacy policies can be long and confusing. And even if a website or app has a good privacy policy, that doesn’t mean it will actually follow it.

In the end, protecting your privacy is up to you. You can’t control everything, but you can make choices that will help keep your data private.

The ghosts in the machine: emotional and psychological implications

The continued existence of our online personas after our death can have profound emotional and psychological impacts on our loved ones. Social media profiles can serve as spaces for communal grieving, with friends and family posting memories and messages to the deceased. However, they can also be painful reminders of loss, especially when social media platforms issue birthday reminders or "on this day" memories featuring the deceased.

Also, the idea of scheduled posthumous messaging adds an extra layer of complexity. Services now exist that allow people to draft emails or social media posts to be sent out after their death. While some might find comfort in receiving a message from a loved one "beyond the grave," others might find it deeply unsettling.

And then there's the phenomenon of AI technology that can recreate a person's speech patterns or social media posts. This digital resurrection can feel like interacting with a ghost, a digital echo of the person who once was. These digital interactions challenge our traditional conceptions of life and death, presence and absence.

Conclusion: embracing the future of estate planning

As the realms of the physical and digital continue to blend, traditional estate planning must evolve to meet the needs of our modern world. This Halloween, as tales of hauntings and the supernatural abound, consider your digital afterlife. How do you want your digital self to be remembered? What digital legacy will you leave behind?

Whether it's ensuring your digital assets are secured or contemplating the emotional impact of your ongoing digital life, addressing your digital afterlife is an important aspect of modern estate planning. So, amidst the Halloween festivities, take a moment to ponder these questions. After all, ghosts aren't just found in old mansions or graveyards; they're in our machines, living on in the digital ether, long after we're gone.

How do I create an estate plan?

There are numerous options and scenarios to consider when developing an estate plan that protects your legacy and achieves your objectives, and important decisions should be made with the advice of qualified lawyers and financial experts. Membership with Legacy Assurance Plan provides members with valuable resources and guidance to develop comprehensive estate plans that take life's contingencies into consideration and leave a positive impact for generations to come. Legacy Assurance Plan members also receive peace of mind that a team of trusted, experienced professionals will assist them in developing legal, financial and tax strategies that will meet their needs today and for years to come through periodic reviews.

This article is published by Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at

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