How to set a Google legacy contact for your account and 5 good reasons why you should

Graham Southorn

18 MAY 2023

If you’re like most people, you probably have a lot of sensitive information stored in your Google account. From emails and contacts to Google Drive documents and photos, there’s a lot at stake if you were to unexpectedly pass away.

You might expect that the executors of your Will would be able to access these things, but that may not be the case. And what if you become incapacitated? A Will could not help in that situation because it only comes into force after your death.

Simply giving someone your password is a terrible idea, of course. Fortunately, you can set a Google legacy contact in your accounts settings right now.

What Is a Google legacy contact?

A legacy contact is someone you choose to manage your Google account if you were to pass away or become incapacitated. They’ll have access to your account and can take certain actions, such as downloading your data, managing your contacts, and sending emails on your behalf. It’s important to choose someone you trust, as they’ll have access to all of your sensitive information.

Why should you set a Google legacy contact?

In case you need any persuading, here are some very good reasons:

1. Ensure your data is handled according to your wishes

How should your data be handled? You might want certain emails to be deleted, or you might want your photos to be shared with certain people. A Google legacy contact can carry out those wishes.

2. Protect sensitive information

Your sensitive information could be at risk if someone gains access to your account. After you’re gone, they could use your information for malicious purposes. By setting a Google legacy contact, you can ensure that only someone you trust has access to your account.

3. Make it easier for your loved ones

Setting a Google legacy contact makes it easier for your loved ones to manage your account and access your data if something were to happen to you.

4. Avoid legal issues and bureaucracy

If your account is inactive for two years, Google will delete the data. But if your friends and family contact them before then, they will “work with immediate family members and representatives to close the account of a deceased person where appropriate.”

Google goes on to say:

In certain circumstances we may provide content from a deceased user’s account. In all of these cases, our primary responsibility is to keep people’s information secure, safe, and private. We cannot provide passwords or other login details. Any decision to satisfy a request about a deceased user will be made only after a careful review.Google Account Help

My take on this is that you’d be at the mercy of Google as to what happens to your data. Fortunately, Google has foreseen this with the legacy contact setting.

5. It’s simple and free

It’s easy to set up a legacy contact on Google, so why not take a few minutes to do it? The process is straightforward and doesn’t require any technical expertise.

How to set a legacy contact for your Google account

Now that you know what a Google legacy contact is and what they can do, let’s look at how you set one up.

  1. Sign in to your Google account.
  2. Click on your profile picture in the top-right corner of the screen.
  3. Click on “Manage your Google Account.”
  4. Click on “Data & privacy” from the menu.
  5. Scroll down (quite far) to “More options”.
  6. Click “Make a plan for your digital legacy.”
  7. Click on “Start” under “Inactive Account Manager.”
  8. Follow the prompts to choose your legacy contact and set your preferences.
Google legacy contact settings in account
Google settings in Inactive Account Manager

You can choose the length of the inactive period and provide different methods for them to contact you before they contact the legacy contact, just to be on the safe side.

And finally, you can add the legacy contact themselves – up to 10 of them, along with that you want them to be able to access. They’ll then have 3 months to access the data.

In my experience

I’ve added my wife as my Google legacy contact and plan to review the situation regularly, particularly as I now use more Google services than before.

Whilst nobody in Bristol has specifically mentioned Google accounts when I’ve written their Wills, I’m sure people will become more aware as the population ages.

In my opinion, it’s likely to be photos that people will want to save. In the past, it was easy to hand over treasured family albums. But now that we take hundreds, if not thousands, of photos a year on our phones, we will want to preserve digital access for future generations.