It is wise to pause before we step into our deceased loved one’s digital world. Once we enter, we may discover networks of their friends whom we knew nothing of earlier. We may discover interests and activities of which we were unaware. We may find ourselves reading their private correspondence, or discover very personal matters. Therefore, there are a few factors to consider before we go any further.
Firstly, there are the intentions and wishes of our loved one. If he or she was anticipating their death, they may have made some arrangements for their digital legacy, or at least expressed their wishes. They might have asked a close friend to take care of it. We might want to ask his or her closest friends about this. If we cannot find specific guidance, we may also be guided by our knowledge of our loved one, and his or her views on privacy. We may have to balance our own desire to find as much as we can about him or her, with a consideration of their feelings.
Secondly, there is the privacy of those with whom our loved one communicated. Assuming we do manage to get access to their email and social media accounts, we will be looking at a flow of communication between them and their friends. Some might have been clearly intended for public viewing, such as a Facebook wall or blog, but others will have been one-to-one communication.
Finally, there is our own self-preservation. If we start exploring our loved one’s digital footprints, we may discover they took part in activities, held opinions or had friends that we had known nothing about. These might be positive and make us proud; then again, there may be some aspects of their lives that cause us additional grief and pain. Whatever has happened in the past cannot be changed; if we are not ready to face this knowledge, it might be better not to proceed.
Accessing our deceased loved one’s digital world is a very personal decision. Just as we may struggle knowing what to do with their belongings, their clothes and personal items, we must also make decisions regarding their digital legacy. However, at least an initial decision should not be delayed too long. Some internet accounts or services could be suspended if not accessed within a certain length of time. It may be a good idea to gain access early on, and then decide later how much to explore the account.