What happens to your digital property after you die? Great question! Here's how you can create a digital estate plan in five steps.
1. Make a list
What digital assets do you own? Make a list of your digital assets, including everything from hardware to social media accounts to online banking accounts to home utilities that you manage online. In brief, your digital assets may include:
- Computing hardware, such as computers, external hard drives or flash drives, tablets, smartphones, digital music players, e-readers, digital cameras, and other digital devices.
- Any information or data that’s stored electronically, whether online, in the cloud, or on a physical device.
- Any online accounts, such as email and communications accounts, social media accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you may manage.
- Domain names.
- Intellectual property, including copyrighted materials, trademarks, and any code you may have written and own.
Here’s the part that might be a bit touchy, but bear with us: Sharing your logins and passwords is essential to the continuity and responsible management of your digital estate.
If you use a password manager program, you can simply share your access information to that account. If not, it's important that you record the login and password information for key accounts and devices. You don’t have to share this private information today, but you need to make a plan so it’s available for someone you trust in case of an emergency.
2. Decide what you want done with this stuff
How should each asset be handled? The way you want different types of digital property managed may vary depending on the nature of the property. While you may want some assets to be archived and saved, you may want others to be deleted or erased, while others should be transferred to family members, friends, or business colleagues.
For each digital account or asset that you have, specify how you'd like your digital executor to handle that asset (more on this person in the next section). While your wishes may conflict with some companies' terms of service, it's still valuable to your executor to know what you want done.
If any of these assets have monetary value, you may want to instruct your executor to handle those assets in a specific way. For example:
- Should revenue-generating assets, like reward points or an eBay account, be transferred to people who will continue to manage it?
- Should credits or points or cash values be redeemed?
- Should online stores you manage be immediately shut down, shut down after all items are sold, or transferred to someone who can continue to manage the store?
If assets will continue to generate revenue, it's worth thinking about where that money is going and who will be able to access it after you're gone. (Learn more: What Happens to My Email Accounts When I Die?)
3. Name a digital executor
This is the person you name to carry out your digital estate wishes. Your digital executor is someone you designate to help settle your digital estate, however you specified in the document you created in the first two steps of this article.
In most states, a digital executor is not a legally binding or enforceable designation. Even so, you can still name a digital executor, as this person can be designated by your executor to follow the wishes laid out in your digital estate plan, or the person can at least help your executor with the digital aspects of your estate.
4. Store this information in a secure-but-accessible location
Here are a few ways you can securely store this kind of sensitive information.
- With an attorney.
- With an online storage service like Everplans.
- In a locked file cabinet or safe.
- In a password-protected file or program (just remember to store the password with one of the above three options so someone can gain access)
No matter how you decide to store your digital estate plan, you'll want to be sure your family knows that you’ve created a plan, where you keep it, and how to access it. It's generally a good idea to tell one or two people you trust − your spouse, your adult children, or your digital executor, for example.
This means giving the person you trust the name of your attorney, the name of the online storage company you've used, or the location of keys or the combination to your safe. This way, when the time comes, the people who need to access the plan you've made can find the plan and access it.
If you’re worried a person might try and access these accounts while you’re alive, then you should probably name someone else to this trusted position.
5. If possible, make it legal
Depending on where you live, you may be able to formalize your digital estate plan in a legally binding document , such as your will. The easiest way to do this is to name a digital executor in your will (or specify the person your traditional executor should work with to settle your digital estate). Then you should specify the location of your digital asset inventory so your digital executor can find and access it.
Safety Tip: Do not include your passwords or other digital asset access information in your will. When you die, your will becomes a public document, which means that anyone can read it − including any sensitive information it may contain.
A good solution to this is to refer in your will to an outside document that contains all the necessary information needed to settle your digital estate. This way, you can continue to add, revise, and update the document without either having to formally change your will or putting your digital assets at risk.
For detailed information on actually closing digital accounts and email, check out these articles on Everplans.com: How To Close Online Accounts And Services When Someone Dies | How To Manage An Email Account After A Death
This article is provided by Everplans — a life and legacy planning company dedicated to transforming the way people get their families organized. For more information, visit:everplans.com
Neither Transamerica nor its agents or representatives may provide tax, investment, or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors and financial professional regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.
Things to Consider:
- You need to start thinking of your digital possessions the same way as your physical possessions.
- Start with your most important accounts you or your family access the most.
- Choose someone you trust implicitly to take care of all your digital estate wishes.
- Make sure you keep all of this sensitive information in a secure place that allows you to keep it up-to-date.