You may not realize it, but you're creating a significant digital footprint as you send email, comment on social media, post a photo gallery and view your medical records electronically — and that's even if you don't have a blog, podcast or website.
But what happens to all these assets after you die? Creating a digital estate plan is becoming increasingly important, whether it's handled through your will or your estate's lawyers, services that specialize in assigning digital beneficiaries, or a complete list of your online accounts and their passwords given to a trusted family member or friend.
Don't leave loved ones scrambling later. Thinking about this now for yourself or an aging family member will help survivors properly notify and close down accounts posthumously.
What if you had a sentimental chat with a relative over Facebook Messenger that you want archived for future generations? Maybe you have important business documents uploaded to a password-protected cloud account. How do your survivors close an Amazon account so the annual Prime membership isn't automatically charged to a credit card?
Be sure to share this
The most powerful thing you should share with a trusted family member is the personal identification number or passcode to your smartphone, GoodTrust CEO Rikard Steiber says.
Why? Once a survivor unlocks a deceased's person's phone, many email, photo, social media and other accounts likely won't require a password.
The exception? Banking apps generally do require a password every time they're accessed.
25 years or more of content
This area is so new that laws or even standard practices haven't been established for managing digital assets, says Tim Bajarin, a technology analyst and chairman of the market research company Creative Strategies in San Jose, California.
"When it comes to end-of-life planning and their estate, I believe most people don't even think about their digital footprint. But they should,” Bajarin says. “Many of us have created an incredible legacy of content over the years.” So, if you already have a lawyer, talk about assigning a trustee for this content.
Don't think of the effort as merely closing accounts. In your will, you also can bequeath content that you own, such as downloaded movies or music that you have licensed.
In part because of the coronavirus pandemic, former Google executives Steiber and Daniel Sieberg have teamed up to tackle the problem of end-of-life digital asset preparation.
Along with writing a book published last year titled Digital Legacy: Take Control of Your Digital Afterlife, they've launched a service called GoodTrust with several other tech veterans. The company securely stores and manages your digital depository of documents, social media accounts, websites and your will, delivering them to specific people you cite before or after you die.
"We've been living in a connected world for about 25 years, and so many of us have amassed a lot of online content,” Steiber says. “COVID-19 has made it abundantly clear that we are never prepared for death, and managing the digital presence of a loved one should be top of mind … for both pragmatic and emotional reasons."
A free option lets you save three websites and store three key documents, write one last goodbye email, create an unofficial social media will (similar to a free spreadsheet that the British-based Digital Legacy Association has available on its website), and consult an expert for advice, Steiber and Sieberg said during a phone interview.