In the event death or incapacity

Staff chiming in here—your iNaturalist account should be treated as a digital asset in your will and any other estate planning documents. You should describe your wishes for your iNaturalist account, and most importantly, who should be the person to fulfill them.

For people in the US, you can use FreeWill to guide you through the process of creating a plan for your digital assets as part of your “estate.” iNaturalist has a partnership with FreeWill. You can use their free tools to create a will or trust that works with any US state & DC.

Outside the United States, you’ll need to consult other resources to make sure what you write is legally binding, but these recommendations should still be a useful starting place.

In FreeWill, you enter your iNaturalist account as a property with a primary and secondary beneficiary. You can unambiguously describe it with these details:

Website: https://www.inaturalist.org
Username: [your username]
User Id: [your user id]
Associated email address: [email address]
[Include any guidance]

You might also want to think about the following and offer instructions (or update these yourself now):

  • Revisit your content licenses. We recommend selecting CC0 for observation licenses in all circumstances. Unless you are a professional photographer with a collection that will be managed after your death, we recommend CC BY or CC0 for all photos and sounds.
  • Turn off “opt out of community id”
  • Check your projects: are there any projects without other admins? Are there any projects for which you can transfer project ownership to another admin?
  • Add a statement to your profile about who you are, if you don’t have one already.
  • Include a link on your profile to another iNaturalist user who can be contacted about your observations in the future, if you are unreachable.

Since I am not a lawyer, this should not be taken as legal advice, but hopefully can point you in the right direction for more information.

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Could I bequeath my account to iNaturalist rather than a person?

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Can you explain what you would want iNaturalist to do? We do not have the capacity to actively manage accounts.

I just checked in FreeWill, and there it looks like you need to name a specific person to inherit a digital asset. You could provide very basic instructions for that person, e.g. add a note to your profile that says “[name] passed away on [date],” and that they should leave your account intact in perpetuity.

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Agreed. As pointed out previously, iNat can’t be responsible for confirming the death of an iNatter or managing their affairs after they’re gone, including the disposition of their iNat account. That’s what family, friends, and lawyers are for. I plan to have my passwords and links to online accounts made available to family and they can deal with those matters as needed.

An avid nature photographer I knew and who has a huge Flickr account with thousands of amazing photos passed away suddenly about 5 years ago. Flickr is a storage site that you have to pay for annually if you have a lot of photos. I hope someone is tending to that.

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There are some existing feature requests that may be of interest:
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/add-option-freeze-account/17427
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/deceased-observers-and-a-deceased-symbol-on-their-icon/642

Also, an existing staff response that is relevant:

Based on this, it seems like it would be necessary for each user to set up something of their own to address how they wish their account to be handled. It might be useful to have a specific help page set up with some of the very helpful guidelines @carrieseltzer set out above to give users an idea of how they could approach this and what some considerations are.

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If I left it to iNat I would’t expect them to do anything but lock it down to ensure that the data aren’t lost through the sort of misadventures that happen to precious things with distressing frequency in the handling of estates.

I’m a Canadian living in Quebec so wills are handled a bit differently here than in the US but the basic principles are the same, I think. One of the principles that applies is that a corporation is a person when it comes to property law. I know that your Supreme Court has ruled that because a corporation is a legal person corporations have the same right to make political donations as an individual. I would not rush to suggest that your Supreme Court always does sensible things but in respect to the personhood of a corporation, which iNat now is, they are on the same page as other countries.

Anyway, no big deal. Just a thought.

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Un-obscure records (if possible with batch edit) would be a priority for me. No need to hide where I live if I’m dead.

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Especially if the deceased person is high on a leaderboard. As I understand the purpose of the leaderboards, having a deceased person on one interferes with that purpose.

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I usually glance at an iNatter’s profile page to see when they were last active if I want to reach out to them or am anticipating a comment from them on a record. There are some I’ve tried to get information from who I noticed had not been active on iNat in months or years (most likely just inactive and not deceased) and I would then just give up.

I would think that the messaging capability on a person’s profile page should probably be disabled if they are known by staff to be deceased.

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for Australia specifically, best to reach out to @peggydnew

It seems that anyone contributing to iNat would not want their account deleted after they are gone. I would love it if there was something on iNat that we could opt into in order to preserve our contributions indefinitely if that were the case.

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iNat will not delete your account or any of your contributions after your death. The only person who can delete the account is the account holder or those you have given access to it. If you are concerned that some well-intentioned family member might delete your account – talk to them in advance about your wishes and/or put it in your will. There are some links above that may provide some assistance in figuring out what steps to take.

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As I understand it, the default position by iNat staff is the account remains whether that person is deceased or has simply left the site, unless the owner of the account deletes it. I suppose there could be a situation where a survivor of the account owner might want the account deleted after the owner has passed away but that seems unlikely.

@spiphany just said basically the same as I was writing.

Regarding the Leaderboards for taxa and having a deceased person at the top of one or more of them: I see the leaderboards as serving two purposes. They note who has contributed a large number of IDs for a given taxon, and they provide information on who you might want to contact to help with an ID for that taxon. The first is simply an acknowledgment of who has provided a lot of assistance in IDing and to my mind they should continue to be acknowledged, whether they are still active on the website or not. If you’re wanting to get help with an ID, use the leaderboards as a guide but check their profile page to see if that person is still active before messaging or tagging them.

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I’m wondering if there should be an In Memoriam category on the forum for posting an announcement from family or friends when an iNatter passes away. (I see one such announcement was posted today on the Nature Talk page.) The longer iNat exists, the more this might be a helpful addition to inform the community of people we have lost.

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Ian Toal was a huge loss!

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I made an “In Memoriam” tag and added it to a few of the threads that fit that description that I am aware of. I don’t think we’d need an entire category for it (as there aren’t too many of those threads), but hopefully that would help folks find similar threads if desired. If someone knows of a thread that tag should be added to, feel free to mention or DM me and I will add.

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You find as you get older, the losses of people tend to multiply. Just an unfortunate reality. But adding a tag to find those threads on the forum for departed iNatters is a good idea.

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