Protecting Your Digital Legacy
The last thing you’re probably thinking of as you go about putting your affairs in order is the internet and your various digital accounts. But, not making a plan for your digital legacy would be a mistake. Whether you use email, Twitter, an online investment account, or only manage your personal email – you need to think about what will happen to your accounts after you die.
Is there important information locked inside them that your family will need once you’re gone? Even if there isn’t anything incredibly important in your accounts, do you want to make organizing and sorting your affairs easier for your loved ones?
Then you may want to leave your login information and assign access rights to specific, trusted individuals. Believe it or not, you can cover all that in your will.
What You Need to Know About All Online Accounts
All digital accounts include a Terms of Service (TOS) agreement. It’s all the fine print you probably skimmed when you signed up. Each and every TOS is different, so to know for certain what the default plans for your individual accounts are, you have to take the time to read them.
If you don’t leave specifics about your wishes for access of individual online accounts in writing, chances are the data you wish your heirs could get to will prove more difficult that you think to access. For many digital accounts termination is the default outcome listed in TOS agreements as a response to the death of the account owner. Don’t assume it’s anything otherwise without reading the fine print.
Social Media Accounts
When you die your social media account standing can be altered in one of many ways. Sometimes they are terminated and disappear from listings completely. For certain accounts family members must actually request termination by furnishing proof of death. And, in some special instances – like with Facebook – family can even request that the account remain active, but as a remembrance, not a fully functioning account. In the latter case, loved ones can still post things to the deceased persons account, but no one can post from the account.
Knowing the options available allows you to make something as heartbreakingly personal as social media easier for heirs to deal with and even turn it into a special connection those left behind can use to feel close to their departed friends and family.
The most common online presence people keep is an email account. For some it’s full of junk mail and coupon offers, but for many there’s at least a few important or cherished family messages, photo and file attachments, and even important account information like statements and activity records.
Making a plan for your email is one of the first things you should do when you begin to manage your digital legacy. Most of the time email serves not only to give your loved ones comfort and direct information they may need, but it also can serve as a record of what kind of active accounts you have.
For example, you may create a list of passwords and login information but accidentally leave something out, like a small bank account or investment. If you get statements to your email from all your accounts, it can act as a secondary reference family members can use to make sure all your assets are accounted for and dealt with.
It’s critical to leave financial account information where your heirs can find it. Otherwise, you risk locking them out of some of the most important estate and asset information they will likely need. To make matters worse, financial accounts are some of the hardest to gain access to if you are not the owner. That’s excellent news when you’re alive, but extremely bad news for your heirs who are trying to understand where and how to access your accounts.
A perfect example of this is for couples where one spouse handles the finances. In the event of a tragedy, there’s no time to whisper password and login information that other person is going to need once their partner is gone.
Most people don’t realize that when they make digital purchases, like online books and music, they aren’t actually acquiring ownership over the files. They are paying for licensing and usage ability. That means that in the instance that the registered owner dies, the files cannot be transferred to anyone else (since they aren’t owned by that person and therefore not included in their estate).
Essentially, when you pay for digital items most of the time you’re just buying the right to use those items while you’re alive.
This might not be a big deal for your music or even your eBooks, but if you use file sharing sites for pictures or record keeping and things of that nature, you will want to make sure that those important documents are saved somewhere safe and permanent, like a hard drive or USB.
Creating a Master List
Above all else, one of the single most beneficial things you can do for your heirs is to create a master list of all your different accounts (think; banking, investments, insurance, loans, email, social media etc.) that includes what kind of account it is and the user name and password. Make sure someone you trust is aware of the location of your list (and it doesn’t hurt to leave a reminder of that location in your will).
By leaving a list of accounts, login information, and explicit consent for access, you will be helping your family organize your affairs and navigate their grief with less headache and unnecessary stress.