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How to set up Google's Inactive Account Manager

Learn how to use this new Google service that acts as a sort of digital will for the data you have stored with Google in the event of your demise.

What happens to your Gmail account, Google Drive documents, Picasa photos, and the other data you have stored with Google when you head to that big cloud drive in the sky? Google introduced a feature today called Inactive Account Manager that lets you tell Google what to do with your data after you're gone, whether you want to share it with family and friends or delete it altogether.

The new Inactive Account Manager can be accessed from the Accounts page. You'll find a link to it under the Account Management section.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

After reading the brief introduction to the service, click the blue Setup button. On the setup page, you'll find four sections:

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

In the "Alert me" field, you must provide a mobile phone number to which Google will send a warning text message one month before your account is deemed inactive. You can also provide an alternate e-mail address (that is, one other than the Gmail address associated with your account).

The next field, "Timeout period," lets you set the period of inactivity that must occur before, basically, Google thinks you're dead. You can set this for 3, 6, 9, or 12 months.

In the next section, "Notify contacts and share data," you can name up to 10 contacts, which I'd imagine would be close friends and family members, who will be notified when your account has remained inactive for the specified period of time. For each contact, you can set it up so that that contact is simply notified that your account is inactive, or you can check the box for "Share my data with this contact" and choose which Google products you'd like to share data from.

Contacts you choose to share with will be able (after your timeout period is up) to download your data for three months. For each contact, you will need to also provide a phone number that Google can use to send a verification code the contact will need to access your data. Also in this section, you can set an auto-response for all incoming e-mails to your Gmail address once it becomes inactive.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

If instead of sharing your Google data from beyond the grave, you'd rather just delete everything, take a look at the fourth and last section, "Optionally delete account." Here you can click the toggle switch to On next to "Delete my account."

Lastly, click the blue Enable button to complete the setup process.