People aren’t lying, or even exaggerating when they say the internet is forever. Internet profiles and email accounts can easily outlast a person’s lifespan, just because they can’t be deleted—unless you set them to be before you pass on.
That’s right, the digital world has given us another thing to put in our wills and final wishes; the fate of our email and social media accounts. Google makes it very easy to set things up to completely delete your Google web presence after you pass away. Or, there’s an option to pass accounts on to other people, so they can memorialize your profiles or access important documents you’ve filed digitally.
It’s completely up to you to decide what to do with your digital footprint once you’re gone. Read on to learn how you can set Google to delete your internet presence and how to pass along accounts if that’s more your speed.
How to set Google to delete everything
If you’re sure you want Google to forget everything about you when you die (at least on your personal accounts; company Gmails don’t have the feature we’re about to talk about), you can set it to delete not only your old emails but also its library of personal information about you. Google learns about you from your use of Google Maps, searching on Google and any use of Google products.
If you want that to go away when you die, follow the below steps: (Note: These instructions work on mobile devices.)
First, go to myaccount.google.com. If you’re already logged in to Gmail, or your Google account (as is almost certainly the case if you’re browsing on Google Chrome), you’ll get an overview of your Google Account, giving you access to things like privacy settings and a view of how much storage you’re using in Google Documents.
On this page, click the Data & personalization tab on the left side of the page. Scroll down to a section called Download, delete, or make a plan for your data (a place where you can also make a copy of your Google data if you want to have it) and click on Make a plan for your account.
You’ll be taken to a page called Inactive Account Manager. Since Google can’t know when you actually shuffle off this mortal coil, you’ll be setting your account to delete when it hasn’t been used for a certain period of time. Click Start on this page, then set your time frame of how long a period of time you want to wait before Google follows your instructions on what to do next.
This timeframe can be as short as three months of inactivity, or as long as 18 months. Google will let you know between one month or three months in advance (depending on the timeframe you’ve selected) that the next steps are being taken soon, so you have time to stop the deletion in case you’re still alive and just not logging in to your Google accounts.
This is also where you’ll input email addresses and a phone number to reach you in this “I’m still alive” scenario. A phone number is required in order to advance to the next parts of the page and once it’s in, you’ll be able to click Next.
You’ll next be prompted if you want to notify anyone if your Google Account becomes inactive. We’ll cover the details of that in the next section, but you can skip it entirely and notify no one by just clicking Next. You’ll now reach the section “Decide if your inactive Google Account should be deleted.”
The page explains a bit of what deletion means, like that deleting your accounts will eliminate content you’ve made like Google+ posts, blogs and YouTube videos. This won’t delete social media profiles you’ve made with your Gmail address, but it will make logging into them inaccessible unless you have a backup email set up.
You can set the Yes, delete my inactive Google Account switch to on or off at this point. Turn it on if you want everything to delete when you go. Then click Review Plan to make sure you’re comfortable with all of the decisions you’ve just made and Confirm Plan if you are. If you want to change anything, just click on that section on the Review Plan page and you’ll get to go back and edit it.
Before you hit Confirm Plan, you can sign up for notifications that you have this plan turned on. That can help you remember to check your Google Accounts and keep your account active while you’re alive, so if you need those kinds of reminders, keep that box checked.
Related: How much information does Google have on you?
How to set Google to pass your accounts along to other people to manage
If you want to make sure your Google photos will get to certain people when you pass on, or you want your spouse to have access to your Google Drive so they can access particular documents, Google lets you do this very easily through the Inactive Account Manager.
You can select up to 10 people for this access and you can determine what each person can reach on an individual basis, giving you a digital will of sorts that’s passed on to your loved ones’ email addresses.
Access the Inactive Account Manager page through the steps we’ve outlined above. Once you’ve selected your preferred timeframe and hit Next, you’ll be in the “Choose who to notify & what to share” section. Click Add Person and input the email address of someone you want to share your Google accounts and data with.
Once you’ve clicked Next, you can select from a list of what you want to share with this person. Perhaps you want them to be able to reach your bookmarks and contacts list. Perhaps you want them to be able to see your Maps or your email. You can select the entire list at once by clicking Select All at the top, or decide item by item what you want to include for this person.
When you’re done selecting for this individual, click Next and you’ll have an option to input their phone number to verify their identity before they have access to your accounts. This can keep a hacker from getting into your personal information after you’ve died, but it’s also optional.
On this page, you can also set an optional personal message to the person you’re passing these digital parts of you to. It can be a chance to say one last thing to this person, or a chance to make sure they have other important information from you other than the Google accounts, like social media passwords if you want accounts to be memorialized or continued.
Click Save once you’re done on that last bit and you’ll be back in the Inactive Account Manager. Here, you can add more people and decide what level of access you’re giving them to your data. You can also edit these individuals’ access or email address by clicking the pencil icon next to their email address on this page at any time.
Whether you decide to delete your data or not, these people you share your data with will have three months to download whatever you’ve shared, and that’s it. That again keeps some personal information and photos secure once you’re gone and also allows your account to be archived when it’s not deleted.
You can also, on this page, set an autoreply that will go out to people once your account is declared inactive. This email will let anyone who emails you know whatever you want them to know — that you’re no longer using this account, or that you’ve died. It’s whatever you’re willing to share.
To create this autoreply, click Set Autoreply and fill out the subject line and the message with whatever you want. You can click a checkbox to only send the autoreply to people in your contacts list (in case you want to be able to send something more personal but don’t want strangers who are emailing you to be able to see it).
Once you’re satisfied with your message, click Save and then Next to move on to the next section in the Inactive Account Manager and decide if you’re deleting your data or not.
Whether you pass on your data or not, the question of your digital presence after you pass might be a strange one, in part because it’s so new.
The ultimate fate of your Google Account and your social media profiles is up to you while you’re still in the land of the living. It’s a part of you that can live on long without you. Make sure it lives on the way you want it to by following our steps above, so your digital legacy can be precisely what you want it to be.