If you or a loved one are in hospice care, you have the opportunity to ensure that your family is aware of your wishes for your estate. While you have probably given thought to writing a will and advance health care directives, one area of estate planning that is often neglected is a person’s digital assets.
First, What Is a Digital Estate?
Getting your affairs in order is an important task to accomplish, and your digital estate is just one piece of the puzzle. Just so you have a clear definition of what your digital assets are, they include:
- The data and photos on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer
- Personal email accounts
- Online bank and brokerage accounts (including credit cards, retirement plans, loans, insurance, etc.)
- Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.)
- Websites you may own (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, etc.)
- Online retail accounts (including eBay, Amazon, and iTunes)
- Photo- or video-sharing sites like YouTube or Flickr
- Music sites (Spotify, Pandora, etc.)
- Subscription sites (like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.)
- PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, or other online payment accounts
- Utility bills you may pay online
- And a multitude of other things (frequent flier accounts, fitness app accounts, etc.)
As you can see, you may have quite a few digital accounts. However, with a few simple tips, you can start pulling together the information needed to protect your data and ensure everything is taken care of after your passing.
6 Simple Tips to Successful Digital Estate Planning
Keep Track of Your Online Accounts
According to a recent report on digital estate planning, the average internet user has around 90 different accounts. Hopefully, you have recorded the usernames and passwords for your accounts and devices, but if you haven’t, that’s okay. Identify the most important accounts (those that include your personal data or charge monthly or yearly fees). So, gather all email addresses, subscriptions, online shopping sites or apps, and anything else that seems important. Then, make sure a loved one or your emergency contact know where to find the information if the need arises.
Decide What Should Be Done with Each Account
Once you’ve compiled a list, you will also need to decide what should be done with each individual account. This may mean requesting that some accounts be deleted entirely, while for others, it may mean turning an account into a memorial page. Each business or social media platform is different so you may need to do a little research as you make your plans.
For example, Facebook and Instagram can either delete an account completely or “memorialize” it, meaning that any friends can still view your profile and post memorial messages (the account is secured so no one can sign in). Twitter and LinkedIn will work with family members to delete an account, but they won’t give anyone but you access to the account.
Determine What Should Be Done with Your Digital Content
It’s also important to think about what should be done with any digital content. Do you want your Flickr photos sent to family members? If you have unused credits on an account, do you want to give them to someone? Are there videos you’ve uploaded to YouTube that you’d like removed? If you have a blog, do you want the blog deleted but the content saved somehow? All of these are great questions to ask about any digital content you may possess.
Make Sure Your Emergency Contacts Know How to Access Your Information
You should select a person to serve as your digital executor, and make sure they will be able to access your devices and digital accounts after you are gone. This person may be the same person you choose to serve as the executor of your will or one of your emergency contacts. If you would like your digital executor to be a different person than the executor of your will, you can include roles in your will so that everyone is clear about who should do what. The clearer you can make things, the easier it will be for everyone to manage your estate the way you want.
Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney
If you want to ensure that everything is done correctly, consider talking to an estate planning attorney. They will help you through the process of planning for both your physical and digital estate. You can discuss adding any language that may be needed to grant authority to your executor regarding your digital assets. Also, if you’ve already put together a will or other legal documentation but forgot about including digital assets, you might consider going back to update your documentation so that it’s the most current.
We can all agree that things change almost constantly. Because of this fact, it’s important to always update your information. If you create a new account in the coming months, add it to the list you’re keeping. If you delete one, take it off. Take time to review privacy policies (even if you only review the ones for your most-used accounts). While this whole process may take a little bit of time, it will give both you and your family the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything – including your digital assets – has been considered and taken care of.