In recent posts, we’ve talked about the importance of developing a will or a living trust to ensure that our possessions are distributed according to our wishes after we die. But there is an important part of our legacy that is less tangible: our digital footprint. Recent statistics indicate that nearly 60% of the world’s population are active Internet users; 85% of Americans are online regularly. Many of us have built an entire life online - from social media and photos to e-commerce accounts like Etsy and ebay. So what happens to our digital assets when we die? And what can we do to safeguard our digital legacy when we are no longer around to manage it? We delve into these topics in more detail below.
Table of Contents
- What Is A Digital Legacy?
- What Are Digital Assets?
- How Do You Find Your Digital Assets?
- What Happens To Your Digital Assets After You Die?
- What Are The Steps Involved In Handling Your Digital Legacy?
What is a Digital Legacy?
Your digital legacy refers to all of the personal digital information that you leave behind after you pass away. It incorporates every aspect of your presence on the Internet - from articles and posts you have written online to references by other people to you in articles or on social media accounts. Your digital legacy also includes all of your digital assets.
What are Digital Assets?
Digital assets are much like material assets, with the exception being that they are online. Think about all of the things you have saved or bought online - photos, music, e-books and so on. These are your digital assets - as are the subscription services on which you may have bought them (iTunes, Amazon). Additional assets include online banking and shopping accounts, movies or videos that you’ve bought or created, social media accounts and, more recently, cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.
How Do You Find Your Digital Assets?
Generally speaking, your digital assets are stored in two places:
- On your local devices, meaning on your computer’s hard drive, a thumb drive or in your phone or tablet; and
- Online (websites, cloud-based storage systems and social media and networking sites).
More and more people are turning to cloud-based solutions to manage their assets; they are relatively cheap (and even free in some cases), offer plenty of storage and are continually backed up so there’s no chance of data loss if you happen to lose or damage your device.
While cloud-based storage has many benefits, the question of what happens to assets that we store on them after we die is a little tricker.
What Happens to Your Digital Assets After You Die?
This answer is a little more complicated. Unfortunately, not all assets can be handled the same after you pass away - some websites and platforms allow for you to designate someone to manage them; others (particularly e-commerce sites) allow for any funds you have in your account to be paid out upon your death. Your assets may also be subject to state laws, and regulations can vary depending on where you live.
What are the Steps Involved in Handling Your Digital Legacy?
While it may seem overwhelming to try to figure out how to handle your digital legacy, it helps to take things step by step.
- Make a list of all of your assets. Before you decide how you want your assets to be handled, you’ll need to pull together a list of all of them. The more comprehensive the list, the better - so include every account and subscription service you can think of, no matter how infrequently you use it.
- Determine the legacy policies and guidelines for each asset. The Digital Legacy Association offers a comprehensive collection of helpful resources explaining the legacy policies for various online services, and is an excellent place to start when deciding how you want each of your digital assets to be handled. You can also get in touch with a representative from a given website or platform directly, using their Help/Contact functionality.
- Designate a digital executor. Much the same way that a traditional executor manages your physical assets upon your passing, a digital executor is in charge of your digital assets after you die. Digital executors can be named in your will, and are in charge of everything from maintaining, archiving or closing online accounts to dispersing funds, deleting files and letting the online community know of your passing.
- Keep your passwords and other sensitive data organized. Your loved ones or digital executor will need to have a way to access your account information after you’ve passed away. An easy way to allow for this is to consider using a password manager service such as 1Password or LastPass; these services store all of your passwords in one secure place, accessed by a single password that you can provide to someone you trust.
- Keep your digital asset list updated. Our interactions with the digital world are constantly growing and changing. In the course of a single day, you might join a new subscription service, cancel another, change your password, sell or purchase something online. It’s important to keep your list of digital assets updated on a regular basis, so that your executor and loved ones have the most up-to-date information.
With some advance planning, you can make sure that your digital legacy is handled properly and your online data and possessions are taken care of after your death.