Do you have any idea how big your digital footprint is?
A decade ago, Microsoft released research showing that the average internet user had 25 online accounts. That was 25 different accounts with 25 different usernames and passwords to remember. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?
But fast forward to today and that number has exploded!
We’re all stashing more information online than ever before. And transactions that have traditionally been carried out in-store or over the phone are now moving online. Shopping for clothing, groceries, furniture, whitegoods and more, not to mention banking, insurance, utilities and pretty much anything else you can think of – it all happens online.
Experts say that the number of online accounts we have is effectively doubling every five years. Some even estimate that the average person will have a staggering 200 online accounts by 2020.
It begs the question: What happens to all of these online accounts, not to mention the information held in these accounts, when we die?
Digital estate planning
When you die, you’re no longer physically here. That goes without saying. But your digital self lives on.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn – your social media presence alone is a digital record of the life you’ve lived. But more than just our social footprint, we leave our digital mark in so many other places.
We use the internet to facilitate virtually every aspect of our lives, so dealing with the grim task of figuring out what to do with all these online accounts and social media profiles is becoming more of a common issue for families when someone dies.
While you may have paper versions of some formal legal documents stored away at home, in a safety deposit box or with your solicitor, these days it’s a safe bet that many of your financial, business and personal documents only exist in digital form. But very few of us have organised or centralised our online accounts and records. So when we die, it can be a difficult task to untangle our online presence.
This is when a digital estate plan comes in handy.
Digital estate planning is the process of organising your digital assets and making arrangements for what should happen to those assets after your death.
Having the right information to access your online accounts after your death will not only help your family manage the closure of your online presence, it will also provide them with access to key information that may be necessary to settle your estate and help them take steps to avoid theft of your online identity.
Creating a digital estate plan
1. Make a list of your digital assets
Think about your digital presence. Make a list of everything you can think of, including:
- the computer hardware you use (including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, external hard drives and any other digital devices)
- the information and data you store electronically (whether stored on a physical device or in the cloud, including music and movie files, photos, videos etc)
- your online accounts (including email accounts, social media profiles, shopping accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts and any websites and blogs you manage)
- any domain names you own.
How will your executor or family be able to access these digital assets after you die? Recording your logins and passwords for all of the above is essential to continuity and responsible management of your digital estate. If you use a password manager program (such as Dashlane, 1Password or LastPass), you can simply record the login and password information to that account.
2. Decide what you want done with your digital assets
What do you want to do with your digital assets? Go through your list and specify how you would like each digital asset to be handled.
You may want some of your online accounts to be deactivated or deleted. When it comes to others, you may be happy for them (and the information and data they contain) to be transferred to someone else.
It’s important to be aware that, in some instances, carrying out your wishes may not be possible – for example, due to the Terms and Conditions of a particular website – but it’s still valuable to record what you want.
3. Store the information securely
Now that you’ve recorded all this information, it’s essential that it’s held securely. You may want to ask your solicitor to keep it with your will. Or perhaps you have a safety deposit box where you can store it. The important thing is that this sensitive information is protected.
Make sure you also let someone you trust know that you’ve created a digital estate plan, where it is located and how to access it. This person might be a family member, your solicitor or the executor of your estate. When the time comes, they’ll know where they can find your digital estate plan.
Planning what to do with your digital assets can seem like a mammoth task, but help is on hand. These days there are companies, such as eClosure, that can help you with digital estate planning.
Digital estate planning is important. It allows you to request what happens to your digital information after you die. Just like a traditional will, you set out who should have access to your digital assets and what is to become of your online presence.
Don’t leave it to chance – start your digital estate plan today.
To find out more about digital estate planning, email us at [email protected].