When was the last time you considered how important and far reaching your digital assets are? Have you thought about what will happen to those digital assets when you are gone?
I have to be honest and say that it is a topic I don’t think about too often and when I do, I always tell myself that I need to take care of this as it is important, but I have so many other things to do and I’ll deal with it later!
The person who got me thinking about digital assets and my own digital after life was John Berlin. I’m unsure of how many of you paid attention to the story about Mr. Berlin, a dad wanting a copy of his son’s “look back” video from Facebook. His son had passed away in 2012 and it had been impossible for the father to gain access to his son’s account. It took a video posted by the father that went viral to reach the ears of Facebook to make things happen and have as much of a “happy” ending as was possible under the circumstances.
This story had an impact on me, not just because of the sorrow I felt for this family, but because it made me realize once again that even though the saying “what stays online, stays online forever” may be a truism the fact is when you pass away the people who need access to your information can’t do a darn thing. The sad reality is that many of us are not paying attention to our “digital assets” and we need to wake up and start taking care of business.
When you consider how much time we spend online, our digital assets are really just an extension of ourselves and whether you are young or a proud baby boomer we have all been leaving traces of ourselves with personal/private information as well as all the public notices on tweets, Facebook topics or any other social communications that we all have.
In the “real” world we make wills and plans for when we die so that our families are not left with a terrible burden, but are we doing the same planning for our online assets? How are we taking care of our digital assets and what can we really do?
For those of you who are unaware of the term “digital assets” it is simply everyone’s electronic possessions and include
social media accounts and data
Ipod, tablet information
Digital assets can also mean anything that has a monetary value such as having your own website, Amazon account or any affiliate earnings in any program you are in.
I wonder if you understand the value of what you have been sharing that may not have a monetary value but have a sentimental value such as family videos or old letters you have saved on a cloud storage.
Unless you take care of your online assets, you and more importantly your family could have one heck of a time sorting it all out and be able to get access to anything.
The sad reality is that there are no universal laws regarding estate planning for your online life; in the United States only 5 states have any laws regarding the legal rights of survivors to access a loved one’s social media accounts and the last time I looked (and )generally speaking , when you read the fine print of many sites, it is illegal for anyone but YOU the creator to even access your accounts even if you say they can. The harsh fact is that there are many families who have had to deal with repercussions of not being able to settle a loved ones “digital life” and that does not sit well with me!
I hope that I have made an impression on you that you need to take control of your digital life – it’s important!
So – what can you do?
The first step in planning your digital life is to never assume and never presume! What may be obvious to you may not be so easy for the person that you are designating to take care of your assets. When you are writing a list of all your passwords and other information, write down the URLs and everything a person would need to know to be able to get into your accounts and know what to do. Understand that any list you make is valuable and needs to be kept in a very safe and secure place as it could be stolen or misused!
Here are a few other tips to help you plan for your digital afterlife so that the trustee or trusted family member will be able to take care of what you have left behind.
1. When it comes to writing a will, use caution about putting a list of assets and passwords into it because a will can become public. Create a separate letter with your intentions or other information such as password etc.
2.When you creating that will, you need to define exactly what digital assets mean and make sure you have a detailed list of all your accounts with the passwords so that the person you assign as your trustee will have easy access to these accounts. Be very clear on your instructions as to what you want done with the assets as there may be information that you don’t want family to see.
3. On the matter of trustees, did you know you can have a “digital trustee” who might be different from the person who is handling your “off line” assets? The reason you may want to think about this is because not everyone is tech savvy and you need to have someone who will be comfortable navigating the online world. Obviously ( or it should be) you want a person that you can trust and will understand the value of your digital assets.
4. Make a point of updating your digital passwords/information every few months. Not only will you be keeping your “digital will” up to date, but it is wise to change passwords to stop people from hacking your accounts.
You can use services such as PasswordBox which offers a legacy feature letting a person you designate a a digital heir and there are online companies such as Planned Departure where you can store your financial, social media and other digital assets and specify your beneficiaries.
While I am not an expert on estate planning, these tips come from a lot of searching for answers on the best way to protect your digital assets and to help your family have peace of mind. No longer can we look at these kind of topics just for older people, we need to think of everyone who is online.
Passing this information on to your friends or family so that they can also get to work planning for their digital afterlife may be the best gift you will ever give.