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Google Wants to Help You in the Digital Afterlife

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 12, 2013 12:54 PM

You have a will. And a living will. A plan for your property, your kids, your pets, and a power of attorney.

But what will become of your email when you’re gone?

Thanks to a new Google feature called Inactive Account Manager, you can start planning for your digital afterlife.

Inactive Account Manager is available on your Google Account settings page. It allows you to tell Google what to do with your Gmail messages and data from several other Google services if your account becomes inactive for any reason. The Internet giant explains on its Public Policy Blog:

You can choose to have your data deleted -- after 3, 6, 9 or 12 months of inactivity. Or you can select trusted contacts to receive data from some or all of the following services: +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube. Before our systems take any action, we'll first warn you by sending a text message to your cellphone and email to the secondary address you've provided.

The Inquisitr describes the Inactive Account Manager "one of the more advanced ways we have seen for dealing with death," contrasting it with Facebook's memorialization service and Twitter deactivation for deceased users' accounts.

This new option sounds like a great feature for a solo practitioner, as long as you keep your ethical obligations in mind.

If you handle client matters from a Google account, you need to think about client confidentiality when planning for your digital afterlife. One of the best ways to do that is to keep your personal Google account separate from your business Google account. Then you can set your Inactive Account Manager to refer your client files to a designated attorney if you become incapacitated.

Some lawyers suggest preparing for an unexpected transition by notifying a client in the engagement letter or fee agreement that a particular attorney will take over the matter if the original attorney becomes incapacitated. If you offer clients similar notice, then you can arrange for the same lawyer to take over both your client files and your attorney email account, providing for a smoother transition.

Maybe you try to avoid thinking about death. That's understandable. But, if you pass while you're still practicing, your clients will appreciate that you took a few minutes to make plans for your digital afterlife.

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