digital legacy

6 minute read

What Is A Digital Legacy & Why You Should Be Planning Yours

Creating your digital legacy is a task you should prioritize sooner rather than later. Understand why and learn how to create yours today.

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When is the last time you updated your estate plan...and is your digital legacy part of it?

Today, we spend so many of our waking hours browsing the internet, scrolling through social media, sending emails, and uploading files to the digital cloud. So much of our identities and behavior patterns are stored in the digital space. 

Ironically, digital assets are something that are often left out of estate plans. That’s because we often associate estate plans with tangible assets, such as property, money, and memorabilia. However, digital assets are just as important.

The art of estate planning is alleviating as much burden off of your loved one’s shoulders as possible. If you were to pass away with no estate plan, your family members won’t know where to start, and what you may have wished for. The goal is to leave out as much guesswork as possible by leaving detailed, updated instructions for your executor to carry out your wishes. What you want to avoid is a situation where your loved one can’t access your internet accounts, making it difficult to act on your Will. This is where your digital legacy comes in.

In this guide, we’ll give you the full picture of what makes up a digital legacy, and why you should get it into your estate plan if you haven’t already. Then, we’ll walk you through the steps of how to create your digital legacy as thoroughly as possible. 

What Is A Digital Legacy?

You can think of your digital legacy as your personal identity that lives on the computer, as well as on the internet. This can include email and internet accounts of any type. In this case, concrete examples explain it best:

  • Social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)

  • Email accounts 

  • Any contributions you make to online communities or listservs

  • Bank or investment accounts

  • Utility accounts

  • Cloud storage accounts containing personal files

  • Customer accounts on sites like Amazon or eBay

  • Streaming services

  • Website domains and blogs

With these examples, you’re probably starting to run a laundry list of all the different accounts and services you access online. Your Google Drive alone could be a treasure trove of photos and documents. As you might imagine, leaving a digital legacy is a serious but important undertaking. 

Why Are They Important?

The reason why it’s necessary to give special attention to your digital assets and legacy is because your family cannot legally obtain access to your accounts. In case something were to happen to you, and you did not leave a digital legacy, then your family would not be able to access important information. 

In addition, your digital legacy is your opportunity to specify what actions to be taken on certain accounts. For example, would you want your Facebook page deleted, or would you want it memorialized? This is likely something you’d never think to discuss with your family members, so be sure to write down all your wishes so there is no guesswork for them in honoring your memory.

By including a digital legacy in your estate plan, typically in the will, you are giving permission for a loved one to access your online accounts and assets. You’ll need to include instructions on how to access usernames and passwords, as well as what you would like to be done with your accounts. 

How To Create Your Digital Legacy In 5 Steps

Our digital assets play significant roles in our lives, and can even be considered an extension of our identities. This rings truer with each passing generation. That’s why giving your loved ones access to your digital assets in the form of a digital legacy in your estate plan is essential. 

To help you through the process, we broke down how to create your digital legacy in 5 easy steps:

  1. Make A List

  2. Decide How You Want Your Accounts Handled

  3. Research Digital Legacy Policies For Various Accounts

  4. Decide On Your Digital Executor

  5. Legitimize Your Digital Estate Plan

1. Make A List

The first thing you want to do is assess the scope of your digital legacy. This might be the trickiest part, because you likely have numerous online accounts, including ones that you might have forgotten about or haven’t accessed in years.

Sit down at your computer and start making a list. It might be helpful to take a look at your bookmarks and your browsing history to jog your memory. Also don’t forget to check applications that are downloaded directly on your computer or smartphone.

The goal of this exercise is to make a list of your digital accounts that is as exhaustive as possible. However, don’t stress too much, because you’ll always have the opportunity to update your digital estate plan. Finally, don’t forget to make a note to yourself that your family will also need instructions on how to get into your laptop and smartphone.

2. Decide How You Want Your Accounts Handled

Next, go through your list and think about how you’d like each of your accounts to be handled in your absence. For example, maybe you’d like to cancel your Amazon Prime subscription. However, you remembered that you also use your membership for its photo storage service, so you would like to have someone consolidate all the photos into one storage service before your account is canceled. 

Using this as a food for thought, make sure that your loved ones will have access to any important information or assets if you decide an account should be closed or canceled. If you would like for the information or assets associated with a certain account to be available indefinitely, find out if the account can be memorialized. We explain more about this in Step 3.

3. Research Digital Legacy Policies For Various Accounts

Steps 2 and 3 work closely together. Part of your decision-making will be influenced by company policy. Using Amazon as an example again, this consumer service won’t allow you to pass on any content you’ve purchased through the site, including digital books or music. However, it does allow you to share your content. This might influence you to keep your account active as long as possible and allow your family members to log in to access content. 

Another example area is social media. Facebook, for instance, allows family members of a deceased person to memorialize their account. Instagram requires a request form along with proof of death in order to accept a request to reactivate an account. As you’re deciding how you want your accounts handled, it would be helpful to research these company policies to help you develop your instructions.

4. Decide On Your Digital Executor

An executor is the person who oversees the process of making sure your wishes are carried out. You name who this person is in your Will, along with the details of your wishes that they are responsible for overseeing. This role comes with great responsibility, so you want to make sure it is someone you can trust, and can stay neutral in case of any family feuds. 

Some might choose to name one single executor for the entirety of their estate plan, whereas others might choose to name several executors to oversee certain aspects. 

In this case, your digital executor is the individual who’ll be tasked with making sure that your digital legacy is preserved, per your wishes. Your digital executor can be the same individual you name as the executor of your will. You might also decide to name a digital executor who is the most technologically-savvy member of your family. 

(Remember, the whole point of the estate plan is to lessen the burden on your loved ones by creating a clear and concise action plan. If your general executor is not good with technology, consider sparing them the pain.)

5. Legitimize Your Digital Estate Plan

There may be conflicting opinions on this last part, but the most important takeaway is that you need to legitimize your digital legacy by making it legal and secure. Some might recommend to include your digital legacy in your existing Will.

However, you may not want to do that for two reasons. First, a Will becomes public information upon the person’s passing. For security reasons, you don’t want to inform the public on all your internet accounts and passwords. However, there is a way to neatly consolidate all of your usernames and passwords, which we’ll reveal in a moment.

Second, the information included in a digital legacy can change much more often than what’s included in your existing Will. For example, you’re likely to change your bank account password a number of times before you actually pass away. You’re also likely to create new types of accounts as new products, services, and technologies become available throughout your lifetime. 

By creating a separate digital estate plan, you can avoid having to update your will each and every time you need to make an update. Another option is creating a codicil to Will.

Simplify Your Digital Legacy Using Technology

You’re probably already thinking about what a headache documenting your digital legacy will be. 

It doesn’t have to be, thanks to online services and technology.

If you’re following safety and security guidelines, you should have long, complex, and different passwords for every type of account. The problem with this is that they’re hard to remember, and a lot of us are guilty for using our internet browser’s “remember” function. (Let’s be real, most of us are guilty for using the same password, perhaps with slightly different variation, since middle school.) 

Did you know that 81 percent of data breaches are caused by weak or reused passwords? It might be time to tighten up the notch on your account security. 1Password offers a solution to this problem. With 1Password, all you need to remember is one master password. With this master password, you can access your password manager, which safely stores all of your online accounts and passwords. In addition, online platforms, like ours at Trust & Will, have made it easy for everyone to start a basic estate plan. It’s affordable, easy-to-follow, and can be done from the comfort of your own home. 

If you’ve been thinking about making an estate plan, and now one that will include your digital estate plan, know that you have the right tools within reach. That way, you’ll be able to have peace of mind knowing that your digital legacy is protected and will be accessible to loved ones if needed.

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