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On the tech days of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Legacy contacts

This holiday season, take a few minutes for important digital estate planning

A legacy contact is someone you choose to have access to your phone and online accounts after your death. Here's how to set it up. (Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)
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If you’ve got a few days this holiday season to help your family with tech chores, embrace an awkward but necessary task: Assign someone to take over a loved one’s online accounts after they die.

“Legacy contacts” are trusted individuals who can manage an online account after the owner dies. Maybe you want to download your mom’s Facebook photos when she’s gone, or you need to access her Gmail account to find a bill. In either scenario, legacy contacts make things easier during a difficult time.

The average internet user is estimated to have anywhere from dozens to hundreds of online accounts. Not all of them are important for estate planning, so focus on the big ones: finance, health, cloud storage and social media.

How to toggle the settings on a phone or computer so that your loved ones can choose who gets control over their account when they die. (Video: Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)

One downside: Legacy contacts work differently across major apps and websites. Apple, for instance, gives legacy contacts access to the account holder’s texts, call history, health data and internet bookmarks, while Facebook keeps private messages hidden. My colleague Heather Kelly wrote a guide to setting up legacy contacts on different platforms.

If you prefer a blanket approach, consider setting up a password manager for your loved ones and sharing the master password. That way, you have access to their online passwords when you need them — if they’re comfortable with that setup.

Not sure how to broach the topic? Put your loved ones in charge, and ask them what they want for their digital legacies. When they can’t manage their Facebook account anymore, should the profile stay up? Do they want their children to have easy access to digital memories, or would they prefer some privacy?

Digital life after death can take some odd turns, like hacked accounts and lost memories. Make sure you’re including online accounts in end-of-life arrangements for your loved ones — and don’t forget about your accounts, either.

It's “The Tech Days of Christmas,” so help your family: Boost their bad WiFi. (Video: Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)

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