Google now allows users to determine what happens to their photos, emails, and documents when their account goes inactive. Users can set when their account should be considered inactive, what happens to the data at that point, and who should be notified by using Google’s Interactive Account Manager.
For those who don’t set this up in advance (most people is my guess), Google also has a process for working with immediate family members or estate representatives to close online accounts after a user dies and, in some cases, to obtain data from a deceased user’s account. Google, here, has to balance users’ privacy concerns with the legitimate interests family members have in deleting accounts after someone’s died and to retreive photo, text, and other digital assets belonging to their loved ones.
I think that their process, which requires that a family submit documents, and allows decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis, is a great first step in formalizing the way in which digital assets are protected after death.