The adage "You can't take it with you" is no less true when it comes to documents, e-mails, photos and other data. What happens to potentially embarrassing or trade-sensitive material -- or for that matter important financial documents -- after we're gone? And what if we just don't sign on for a long time? Should our accounts deactivate or just wait around until we get out of the hospital or jail or just get around to logging in?
Google appears to be the first tech giant to tackle this issue head-on, with its new Inactive Account Manager service, announced Thursday on the company's Public Policy blog.
"Not many of us like thinking about death -- especially our own," said Google Product Manager Andreas Tuerk. "But making plans for what happens after you're gone is really important for the people you leave behind."
Go to your account settings page and you'll be able to choose whether you want your data deleted after three, six, nine or 12 months without logging in. Alternatively, you can designate a sort-of digital next-of-kin to receive data from +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube.
Still alive? Google will first check by sending a text to your phone and secondary e-mail to be sure you haven't just lost your password.
"Planning for what happens to our online assets, communications and persona presence is a perfectly natural progression of our lives and society becoming increasingly digital," social media analyst Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group told us.
"Just as we leave an envelope, file or instructions for our loved ones, end of life planning now almost inevitably means leaving behind the 'keys' to online accounts ranging from the personal -- e-mail and social media, for example -- to bank and brokerage information."
Google isn't alone in thinking about the inevitable way of all flesh. Facebook also has a feature for reporting when another user passes away, but doesn't as yet allow a last will and testament to decide what happens to your photos, likes and status updates postmortem.
Twitter will give you six months of tweetlessness before designating your account inactive. "To keep your account active, be sure to log in and tweet (i.e., post an update) within 6 months of your last update," warns the microblogging service. Accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity."
What about people who read Tweets but don't send them? "Inactivity is based on a combination of tweeting, logging in, and the date an account was created," Twitter says in its help center.
AOL considers an e-mail account inactive after 90 days, although users can still reactivate for 30 days after that.