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Challenges and Opportunities in Managing Digital Estates

In today’s Internet-connected world, people accrue vast amounts of digital assets. These include digital files (e.g., e-mails, photos, videos, and documents), as well as digital accounts (e.g., financial, business, social media, e-mail, retail shopping, and cloud storage). The digital assets left behind when an Internet user dies, or is no longer capable of managing his or her digital estate, forms the person’s digital legacy. 

Managing one’s digital estate is an important issue for those connecting to the Internet. An AARP Public Policy Institute survey found that 6 out of 10 adult Internet users have not considered how they want to address their digital legacy. Even fewer said they had taken any action to prepare for the management of their digital legacy. More important, two-thirds indicated they were not concerned about addressing the issue of their digital legacy, and would not look for further information on this topic. 

Consequently, people managing the estates of those who die or become incapacitated will face challenges identifying, recovering, and accessing the person’s digital assets. In many cases, the digital assets will be lost. The report identifies the potential barriers heirs could face and provides recommendations designed to help provide heirs legal access to digital content after death or incapacitation.