Learn how to prepare a plan for your digital assets. This will help your family and friends after you are gone.
Many people don’t want to think about what happens after they’re gone, but the alternative is much worse. Massachusetts has not passed a Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act, which makes this planning even more important (Feb 2022).
What are Digital Assets?
You might not think your digital assets are worth anything. Most people are a little surprised. A significant amount of your life’s data exists online, and some of it only exists online. The value of these assets is not only monetary, but also emotional and logistical.
- Photos – most photos taken today exist only in digital format.
- Music – purchased digital music and playlists.
- Social Media accounts – Facebook, Instagram – content as well as interactions with friends/followers.
- Email – access to people, records, accounts, resetting passwords.
- Documents – stored on a computer or in the cloud – statements, letters and documents you have created or received
- Subscriptions – to games, streaming services, reading materials
- Cryptocurrency – a growing category
What Happens if I Don’t Plan?
If you don’t prepare a plan for your digital assets, then there are several things that might happen.
People can get into your accounts – Someone knows or guesses your password
- That person can essentially act as though they are you.
- There may be materials on your devices that you would like to keep private, perhaps even after your death.
- The person may not act in a way you would approve of.
People can’t get into your accounts
- No access to email – this may hinder legitimate people from discovering where your assets, as well as where your obligations, are. Many people only receive information from banks, credit cards and other accounts in email form, or by logging into a website.
- No access to your phone and computer – Something as simple as seeing your contacts, or who you message, might aid your family in notifying the right people. Phones are commonly a security factor in accessing websites, and without access to the phone, access to online accounts may be denied.
- No access to social media – Without access, no one can monitor and respond to comments and messages received.
- Your devices may be rendered useless. No one can clear your old device and use it if they can’t log out of your accounts.
Think carefully about what you want to happen after you’re gone. If you don’t plan for the future of your online existence, then it may effectively disappear, or people may gain access to material you meant to keep private. Prepare ahead of time to assure that your wishes are met.
How Should You Plan For Your Digital Assets?
You should maintain a list of all online accounts, with usernames and passwords and store this somewhere safe. Include your login credentials for devices; phones, laptops, and tablets. Include automatic payment subscriptions that are active.
Using a Password Manager for this is an excellent plan. The password into the Password Manager is the only one your representative will need access to. This also relieves you from updating your list every time a password changes.
Specify your wishes for each account. Do this on websites you frequent, and also as part of your will. Please discuss this with your own attorney in order to get the most benefit in your circumstances.
Decide which information you want to preserve and make regular back ups of this data. You can download social media content, back up email and keep copies of important documents and photos. Consider multiple back ups; cloud storage, external thumb and hard drives; and replace devices every few years to avoid data loss through device aging/failure.
Review the legacy options on your accounts and make sure that your loved ones have the information that they need to access/manage or delete these accounts in line with your wishes. The terms of service of the individual accounts may not allow someone to log in to a deceased loved one’s account, regardless of your intention.
Update your estate planning documents to authorize your power of attorney, executor, and trustee to have access to your accounts. Some access ends upon your death, so be sure that you have a plan in place for both before and after you die.
Examples of Options
The following list is not exhaustive, but summarizes the options/requirements for some of the main platforms.
If you use any Google services (Gmail, YouTube etc.), then you can set up the Inactive Account Manager. Decide which information in your account can be shared. Designate specific trusted contacts. You specify what access your trusted contact will have. Access is triggered after several months of inactivity on your account.
Under the Apple terms of service your Apple ID/ iCloud/iTunes account ‘is non-transferable and any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death.’. Make sure that you have the data (photos/documents/music) that you wish to keep backed up on an external drive as well as in iCloud. In practical terms, your representative may be able to log in as though they are you, but you can’t rely on this access.
Email accounts at Yahoo are non-transferable. The policy states – ‘Yahoo cannot provide passwords or allow access to the deceased’s account, including account content such as email.’. They will work with an authorized contact to remove/delete the account.
Facebook allows you to have your account memorialized or deleted. Set up a Legacy Contact, and then this person will be allowed certain access to your memorialized account. Facebook strongly recommends that you do this. You can download a copy of your Facebook content at any time.
Instagram allows the option of memorializing or deleting an account. They do not currently give you the option of setting this preference in advance, but you can download your Instagram content from within your settings.
Twitter’s Terms of Service state ‘We are unable to provide account access to anyone regardless of their relationship to the deceased.’. Authorized contacts can only remove or delete accounts. You can download a copy of your Twitter archive at any time.
Another good resource, covering both the legal and consumer issues, is Jim Lamm’s Digital Passing blog. Mr. Lamm includes a Digital Audit form, which guides you through the process.
The Conversation Project is a resource that goes well beyond technology issues. One of their many resources is a What Matters To Me Workbook that could be helpful.
If you would like some help to prepare a plan for your digital assets, just call or email and we’ll be happy to assist you! If you have specific questions, or if our terminology isn’t clear, please use our contact form to send us a message. Thank you!
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