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Digital Estate Planning

It’s difficult enough to manage our financial and tangible assets. Now, many of us are accumulating digital assets we need to consider. These include digital files stored on computers, hard drives and recorded media, or cloud services such as Dropbox, Apple’s iTunes and Amazon, social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter, and multiple email accounts. 

While planning an estate here are a few things to consider:

1. Make an inventory of all digital assets and how to access them. 

Make one list of all accounts and a separate list of passwords to protect the information from theft. The inventory should include:

  • Social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Online bank, brokerage, retirement, credit card, loan, and insurance accounts
  • Email accounts
  • Online retail accounts and apps from marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, and iTunes
  • Photo- or video-sharing sites like Flickr or YouTube
  • Domain names, blogs and personal websites
  • PayPal or other online payment accounts
  • Utility bills you pay online
  • Cloud services (external web-based servers) like Amazon and Google Docs
  • Other online accounts such as airline sites containing frequent flier miles  
  • Subscription services that deduct money from a credit card
  • Cell phone apps that collect data
  • Cell phone accounts 

2. Find a safe place to store this information.

Find a secure place to put the information so it can be accessed when necessary. It can be printed on paper and locked away in a safe deposit box, filed with an attorney along with other estate records or stored on a web service such as agilebits.com or lastpass.com.

3. Name a digital executor.

Find a trusted person to carry out your wishes upon your death. Be sure that your digital executor is not only responsible and impartial but also has the technical knowledge to manage this kind of information. Your financial executor may or may not be qualified to handle these tasks. Your digital executor should be named in your will, have access to all the necessary information and have power of attorney over your digital accounts. 
 

4. Write out instructions for what should happen to your digital assets after you die.


Your digital assets may contain intellectual property, such as photographs, written documents, videos and data. A typical computer user may have files on computers, mobile devices, external hard drives, CDs, DVDs and on cloud services. In addition to digital files, many users have several kinds of online accounts: social media accounts, subscription services, cloud services, data services and more.  

Some options to consider when deciding what to do with online accounts are: Shut down the account and do nothing; Archive the contents on DVDs or an external drive; create an auto response on the account; forward messages to another place.

Here are some questions to help you prepare instructions for your digital executor to carry out your wishes:

  • Who do you want to inherit your computers and other devices, and do you also want them to have the information that’s stored there?
  • Should your Facebook account be shut down when you die, or do you want it to remain online as a memorial of your life?
  • Who do you want to have access to your email accounts? Check on the policy for your email provider, as they each handle deceased accounts a little differently.
  • Do you have a YouTube, Vimeo or other video account? If so do you want to post a memorial video, keep your videos up or have the account closed? Check the policies for each service.
  • Do you have files stored on cloud services such as Amazon, iTunes, or Google? How do you want those assets distributed?
  • Do you have any other digital assets such as domain names registered to you, online gaming assets, databases or digital credits?
  • Are you active in online communities, forums or groups? If so do you want your digital executor to inform the community when you die?

5. Consider whether you want to post a final message online.

There are several ways to leave a final message or memorial online after you die. You should make it clear to your executor if this is something you do or don’t want. Be aware that your friends and family may choose to do so on their own.

Related Resources

Digital Assets Often Forgotten During Estate Planning »
Digital assets are an important consideration while planning your estate.

Deactivating, Deleting & Memorializing Facebook Accounts »
A guide for managing your Facebook account.

Accessing a Deceased Person's Gmail »
A guide for Gmail users. 

What Happens To Your Twitter When You Die? Creating A Social Media Will » 
Issues to consider if you are a Twitter or social media user. 

The Social Media Will: An Expert Guide to your Digital Afterlife »
Helpful advice for planning a social media will.