What happens with your Digital Legacy?

Tomorrow is promised to no one

Who knows what will happen tomorrow and what if it were the worst? If you’re reading this you’ll probably have at least one e-mail account and probably a social media account or few.  The need to plan for when you are no longer around becomes more and more of an issue with each of our online accounts.

Think about it.  What do you want to happen if you pass away?  Should your online contacts to made aware? What about the money on your PayPal account?  Do you want your Facebook to remain open?  What about the pictures?  Videos? And the ones on your phone? etc.  You know I could go on.

Still reading? Right. It makes sense to give a little thought to this in advance of your passing.  We need to consider each of our accounts – the login credentials and what action should be performed. i.e. what to do with the content, whether or not it should be closed and, importantly, who we trust to do the necessary on our behalf. Yes. We need to let someone know about all this.

Personal Assets Log

We should consider our individual accounts as ‘assets’. Digital Assets. Each with some value whether monetary, sentimental or both. A simple list is a good starting point. Don’t expect to complete it in one sitting.  The list can be built up over time as we remember or are reminded about them and then combined with our traditional Personal Assets Log that we might included in our Last Will and Testament.

Our list should cover three broad headings:

Digital Assets

  1. Hardware / devices
    • Mobile phone
    • Tablet
    • Computer / Laptop
  2. Social media
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Instagram
    • Linkedin
    • Google
  3. Other online accounts
    • Website & Blog
    • Online bank accounts & subscriptions

Notes on Social Media platforms

Many of the social media  platforms are giving consideration to the issues that arise when account holders die. Each platform adopts their own approach so there is little consistency between them.  For Facebook, content becomes part of an account holder’s ‘digital legacy’. There is now a facility whereby users can assign a ‘legacy contact’. This ultimately provides another chosen Facebook user with access to photos and videos once an account holder has died.

On Twitter, their inactive account policy means accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity. So if you would like your Tweets to remain available for friends, family and future generations to view you would need to make arrangements in advance.

At the time of writing, Instagram’s policy is to remove the account of a deceased person.  It is therefore important to backup your Instagram photos & videos while you are alive.

Approximately one-third of LinkedIn users pay a fee for a premium account and unless it is actively changed to a free account or closed, payments will continue to be collected after the death of an account holder.

If you have any of the following accounts: Gmail (Googlemail) Google+, Youtube, or Picasa you can assign a digital executor to have access to some or all of the content saved on these services.

With each digital asset there will be an associated password or PIN.  Some may also have a username and / or e-mail address.  It would make sense to compile a table with columns for:

  • the URL to the digital asset
  • account username / e-mail address
  • account password
  • the identity of whom should execute your wishes
  • details of your wishes

Social Media Will

Effectively, what we are creating here is much like a traditional ‘Last Will and Testament’ but for your digital and social media assets.  It is sometimes referred to as a Social Media Will.  It is right to grant this exercise the same level of importance as is given to our traditional will.  The finished documents and arrangements for our Social Media Will should be referred to and aligned with our traditional Will.  Yes, that means engaging our legal representative to ensure our wishes are carried out.

Pass on your passwords

Now, it may be tricky keeping our list of digital assets up-to-date.  Passwords may change, new accounts created, etc. It can become a significant ongoing task to manage our list.  I would recommend you consider utilising a password manager to help with this.  The one I use cleverly remembers all the passwords for my online accounts across all my devices so that I need only remember one master password.  In addition to the obvious convenience of ensuring credentials for each asset are up-to-date, this approach makes it easy to record your wishes and provide access to an executor.

Which ever method you use, be it bits of paper, an Excel spreadsheet or the master password to a password manager, simply giving some thought and taking some action, you are likely to avoid:

a) a great deal of trouble for those left to manage your affairs, and

b) the loss of valuable assets that would otherwise die with you.

Key steps

My aim here has been to make a case for us all to give consideration to our digital afterlife. Hopefully, you will have realised you need to take action to ensure that your loved ones enjoy the benefits of your digital assets alongside more traditional personal assets.  If you’d like support and guidance at any stage of the process, contact me.  In summary, here are the key steps you need to take:

  1. Start a conversation with your family or the person you trust to administrate on your behalf. Someone needs to know of your digital assets.
  2. Express your wishes. Be clear what you want to happen to your accounts and your content.
  3. Maintain a complete list of your digital assets.  Consider using a password manager.
  4. Set up legacy contacts
  5. Incorporate your Social Media Will into your traditional Last Will and Testament.  See that your digital assets are dealt with along with traditional assets.

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