Protecting your Digital Afterlife and Digital Estate
In just a matter of years, our culture has gone completely digital. Your grandmother’s favorite bulky photo albums? They’re becoming as rare as the home phone.
Future heirlooms like family photos, home videos, and personal letters exist almost exclusively in the digital space. In many cases, they are stored in popular services like Flickr, YouTube, and Gmail. While our digital possessions form a rich collection in the same way that our analog ones did, most of us have never considered how to organize and manage them over the long term.
According to the Pew Research Center, over half of the US adult population has a Facebook account, with an average of 100 total accounts across the web. Have you ever considered what will happen to your digital possessions when you pass away?
The answer isn’t so cut and dry. There are numerous legal, cultural, and technical issues that could prevent access to these assets, and if you don’t take steps to make them available to your heirs, your digital estate and digital legacy could be lost or unattainable forever.
What is a Digital Estate?
Your digital estate consists of the assets you have in digital form, whether it’s a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an email account, music, photos, or videos.
Specific information about digital estates are almost always included in the Terms of Service of every digital company. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple pledge to never share your account information with anyone other than you.
Most of these companies believe what you do with your digital account is exclusively your business. You have the right to decide who does (and who doesn’t) have access to your account through your username and password. This clause remains if and when you or a loved one passes away – which is why you should plan your digital estate just like your physical estate.
How Do I Organize My Digital Estate?
First thing’s first: Make a list of all your digital assets and how to access each one. This may take some time, because you’ll need to list everything from social media accounts to online banking information to home utilities that you manage online.
Other possible assets include domain names, intellectual property, shopping accounts, online storage accounts, websites, and blogs.
Consider using a Password Manager like 1Password or CommonKey so you can keep track. If you prefer not to use an online-based password manager, use an offline, computer based tool like Microsoft Excel, or even a print binder or notebook.
If you have computing hardware such as computers, external hard drives, flash drives, tablets, smartphones, or digital music players, you’ll want to record where those items are located, as well as any passwords or serial numbers associated with the device.
After you make your list, decide how you’d like each asset handled – and by whom. While you may want some things archived and saved, you may want others deleted or erased. Others may be transferred to family or friends, or made into a Memorial, as seen here.
Specify how you want each account (or set of accounts) handled, and name the Digital Executor for that set of information. While your wishes may conflict with some accounts’ future Terms of Service, at the very least, your Digital Executor will know how you want the account handled.
You can store your information in a myriad of ways: an attorney can hold onto it, or you can also choose an online storage service. If you have a locked cabinet file or safe, storing your online information here is also an option.
Your Social Media Legacy
Facebook now allows users to add legacy contact permission and to download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information they shared on Facebook. To show respect toward the deceased, other settings will remain the same as before the account was memorialized, and the legacy contact will not be able to log in as the person who passed away or see that person’s private messages.
Alternatively, people can let Facebook know if they’d prefer to have their Facebook account permanently deleted after death. You can find your current Legacy Contact options in Facebook’s security settings.
Twitter, and the family of Google products (including Google Plus, Gmail, and YouTube), ask you to submit a form regarding the deceased person’s account in order to move forward. Twitter will also remove photos of deceased individuals in certain circumstances.
Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest also provide legacy options.
Additional Digital Estate Organizing and Planning Tips:
2. Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to formalize your digital estate plan in a legally binding document, such as your will. In OXO’s home state of Florida, there is currently no passed legislation on digital estates at this time.
3. Do not include passwords or access information within the will itself – leave this sensitive information directly to your appointed Digital Executor.
4. Don’t forget to tell your Digital Executor who he or she is, and what is required of them!
Get Organized this Spring! Click here to read OXO’s blog about how to Organize your Photos and Vital Info for you and your loved ones.