What happens to your phone when you pass away

In 2023, over 50 million people across the globe left their phones behind after they died. Our digital footprint is extremely valuable, so what can we do to secure the information on our devices after death?

The US-based cell phone trade-in center SellCell has found that across the globe, 95% of adults left orphaned devices behind after they died, leaving an abandoned digital footprint, online accounts, and a trail of data.

The amount of phone users worldwide is growing exponentially, which will leave a large amount of devices unaccounted for when the users eventually pass on.

This inevitability is evident from the approximately 51 million orphaned devices that were left behind in 2023.

Our devices hold a lot of personal data that is incredibly valuable, so what can you do to ensure that your personal information is safe and secure when you eventually drop off the mortal coil?

Passing on your digital footprint

SellCell suggests a list of steps that you can take to secure your digital device and ensure that your information is handled appropriately.


By creating a secure list of passwords, your loved ones can handle your digital assets once you’re gone.

This can include your email and social media accounts, online banking, and other platforms that could contain your valuable information.

Remember to create a list and store it securely so it can’t be exploited by adversaries or entrust a friend or family member to keep this list safe for you.

Make the right people aware

Inform the people you trust of where they can locate this information and ensure that they understand the importance of managing your digital footprint.

Decide how you want this information handled and ensure that your family and friends carry this out appropriately.

Write it in your will

Outline the details of how you want your digital assets handled in your will – you can contact a legal professional to help you outline what should happen to your personal information once you’ve passed.

Appoint a digital executor

Appoint a digital executor to manage your digital footprint once you have passed.

A digital executor is a person who you trust to manage your digital assets and online presence.

SellCell suggests that this person should be “tech-savvy” and have a good understanding of how online platforms and services work.

Use a digital repository

Employ a digital repository, which is a tool where you can store all of your personal digital information.

This could be a password-managing tool or a separate service that can release your information to a trusted recipient upon your passing.

Leave a legacy

Social media platforms like Facebook have the option to set up a legacy contact, which allows a select individual to manage your social media once you’re gone.

They can choose to either memorialize your account or delete it entirely – this allows them to handle your digital presence in a respectful and appropriate manner.

Leave instructions

Leave a list of detailed instructions surrounding your digital information, whether you want things deleted or passed on to family and friends.

Update your digital estate

SellCell suggests that you update the plan for your digital estate periodically, as your digital information can change over time.

If you know someone who has left a device behind and is unaware of what to do, SellCell has provided steps that you can follow if you’re left with your loved ones' personal information.

What to do with an orphaned phone?

When your loved one passes on, they may leave you with different digital devices that you will need to handle with care.

There are ethical and legal considerations that you may need to take into account when handling a deceased individual's digital assets.

SellCell suggests a list of things to do when dealing with the devices of the deceased:

  • Contact the owner's loved ones
  • Obtain important contact information from the device
  • Preserve precious memories such as sentimental messages, photos, or videos
  • Disable accounts on the device, such as email and social media accounts
  • Back up and transfer important data from the device
  • Return the phone to a loved one, donate the device to charity, recycle, or resell

The process of dealing with a person’s device once they have passed can be complex and often requires multiple steps.

The importance of your digital data doesn’t diminish once you’re dead, as you or another person may have shared could involve others.

Therefore, ensuring that the deceased’s data is secure even after their death may impact the future of the living.

Making sure that your digital footprint is secure will provide you and your family with some peace of mind in the event of our eventual passing.

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