Want to share your family photos after your death, but take your search history to the grave? All that and more is possible with Google’s Inactive Account Manager. Let’s take a look at how you can put your Google account on autopilot when you’re no longer at the wheel.

How You Can Control Your Information After Death

It’s not nice to think about, but one day, you will die, along with the keys to your online kingdom. And these days, those online accounts can hold a lot of stuff you may want to pass on.

Your Google account has a feature tucked deep in the bowels of your account settings called “Inactive Account Manager”. Although the feature is several years old now, it’s practically unknown among Google users–in a casual survey of people outside our office who had Google accounts, not one of them was aware of the feature.

Inactive Account Manager is what fans of old spy movies and psychological thrillers will immediately recognize as a “dead man’s switch”. Once activated if you do not interact with your Google account in X amount of time, then Google’s servers will automatically either notify your trusted contacts and/or share specified data with those select contacts. Or, at your instruction, it can wipe your account.

In this way, you can ensure that things like family photos stored in Google Photos are available to your family, that your spouse can will have full access to your contacts to manage your business affairs, or that anyone you wish to share your account with upon your demise or incapacitation can access it legitimately and without resorting to masquerading themselves as you.

Setting Up the Inactive Account Manager

To set up Inactive Account Manager, make sure you’re logged into your Google account and visit this page.

On the information splash page, click the “Setup” button.

The setup all occurs on a single page, but we’ll break each section down. First, the “Alert me” section.

You will be notified 1 month before the actions you have selected take effect. Your mobile number is required and you cannot enable the Inactive Account Manager without it–you will need to verify you control this number by supplying the verification code sent to your phone.

Further, you should add a secondary email address that you regularly use if the only listed email address is your Gmail account (if you’re not using your Google account regularly you obviously won’t get the notice via Gmail).

Next, we’ll set the timeout period.

You can set the timeout period in quarter year increments ranging from 3 months at the minimum to 18 months at the maximum. Regardless of the length of the timeout period, you will always be notified 1 month before the timeout period ends.

In the next step, “Notify contacts and share data”, there are two settings to attend to: adding trusted contacts and setting an auto-response in Gmail. First, let’s look at adding a trusted contact. You can set up to 10 trusted contacts and set variable degrees of access for each one. Click on “Add trusted contact” to continue.

Then their email address. Check “Share my data with this contact” if you wish to do so. Click “Next”.

In the next step you need to supply a contact phone number for the person (don’t worry, they won’t get an immediate text indicating that you’ve selected them, so there won’t be any awkward conversations about death triggered by this process). Then you need to specify what Google data you want to share with them. We’d encourage you to apply this step selectively, and not simply check “Select all”. Most of us would happily share our Google Photo collections with our next of kin, after all, but would prefer to take our search histories private. Once you’ve made your choices, click “Next”.

In this final contact setup step, you get the sobering task of sending a message to your trusted contact. This is not an optional step, and you must input even a minimal message with at least a subject line.

When you’ve finished with your message, click “Save” and then repeat the process for any additional contacts you wish to share your personal data with.

If you wish, you may also set up an automated message that will go out to anyone who contacts your Gmail address, regardless of whether or not they are on your trusted contact list. Let’s say, for example, that you ran a small hobby business where people contacted you through Gmail to place orders. You could set up the auto-responder to indicate that the business had closed and that, sadly, they would need to look elsewhere for their lovingly mixed period authentic miniature paints. Or maybe you just want one last opportunity to Rickroll people–we don’t judge.

The final step is the weightiest one: selecting whether or not your Google account will be wiped upon the completion of the timeout period.

There is no option to partially delete the data, so make this very binary decision with care. You cannot, for example, wipe your search history and email but leave your YouTube content and Blogger posts intact for posterity. Once the countdown is complete, like a real dead man’s switch, the account data is gone forever.

Once you’ve made all your selection, written notes to your trusted contacts, set up your auto-responder, and so forth, you must press the “Enable” button at the bottom to complete the process.

Confirm that the process is enabled, your screen should look like this:

You can uncheck the email reminder box, but we left it active. Not only is it a good reminder that the service is active (so you can return to edit the settings or disable it if need be) but if the specter of Death resting his hand on your shoulder now and then isn’t motivating, what is?

It’s not the most pleasant thing to contemplate, but a little planning ensures that your Google account and all the data therein is safe even if you aren’t.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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