This morning I had the pleasure of speaking at the Age Friendly Technology and Health Forum put on by the Thorold Age Friendly Committee. My topic was “Managing Your Digital Legacy”. I was pleased to find that many people found the topic interesting and relevant.
Of course, I was also sad that people found the topic interesting and relevant. It meant they hadn’t given much thought to what their digital legacy would be. Here is a very concise version of my presentation.
For those of us who have had a loved one pass, we know what the process is like. It’s emotionally and logistically challenging. You have to go through a lot of stuff in a house, garage, or cottage. Digital “stuff” can be more challenging because often the deceased is the only one who knew where everything was. They knew all the passwords. They might have had accounts nobody else knew about. The challenge for those you leave behind is how to inventory your digital life when you’re gone.
What you need to realize is that you need to start creating an inventory of your digital life NOW. You don’t have to share this information with anyone, but it should somehow be made available to whoever will manage your estate when you’re gone.
In my time in business I’ve had a couple of clients pass away and have lost other people in my business networking circles. I’ve seen the challenges their sudden departures created for the ones they left behind. It doesn’t have to be this way. With some planning and minor effort, you can make it easier for others to deal with your digital legacy when you’re gone.
While I’m not a lawyer, I’ve heard enough lawyers say people without wills should get one done ASAP and designate at least one person to be your executor. It’s also helpful to think about what happens if you are incapacitated, so appoint a power of attorney for property and health. Your executor and/or power of attorney should be able to access your online accounts and be able to deal with them in accordance with your wishes. This means you have to think about what you want to have happen when you’re no longer around.
This can be a delicate matter.
If you’ve ever had any form of sensitive communication via email, online messenger service or text, you need to realize that those messages that were meant to be private could still be accessible when you’re gone. They’re part of your digital legacy. You should probably take some time to consider how those communications are dealt with when you’re gone.
I don’t care what system you use to collect each and every username and password for all of your online accounts and services. Use a notebook, spreadsheet, or an online password manager. Just get this information compiled and stored securely. Ensure it is complete. I use the LastPass service for my passwords (https://lastpass.com). It’s inexpensive for the value it provides.
Online Banking & Finances
List every account and asset that you manage online. This is pretty much the same as you’d do for any routine estate planning, except you need to make sure you provide usernames and passwords as well. Remember, in addition to bank accounts, to list insurance policies, online brokerage accounts, credit card information, and recurring payments of all kinds. That will help ensure you don’t miss anything.
Email, Texts, & Social Media
If there are any sensitive conversations you’ve had, you may want to purge them. Either that or provide clear instructions to whoever is managing your digital legacy so they know what to do with them. Never assume privacy! Email, text, and any other online messaging system can potentially be accessed after your death.
Social Media is also a tricky scenario. Even though you’re gone, you should be give thought to what you’re leaving behind about yourself online. Some online services make it clear that sharing account information with someone other than you is a violation of their Terms of Service (TOS).
Online Storage & Other Digital Assets
What are you storing and where? Photographs, digital music, and other digital assets need to be accounted for. If you’re storing these items online in a service such as Dropbox, keep in mind the TOS for these services are all different. If you have a domain name, website, blog, or other intellectual property, this all has to be taken into consideration as well.
Terms of Service (TOS)
Every digital service has its own TOS. Giving someone else access to your account can be considered a violation of the TOS and can have consequences. You need to understand what those consequences could be. Depending on the company you’re dealing with, respecting their TOS may not provide your desired outcomes.
Get Help (Lawyer Up!)
As I said earlier, I’m not a lawyer. Work with an estate lawyer who has skills in digital estate planning. They can help you make the decisions necessary to help you things “right”.
The most important thing is to just get started. It doesn’t matter how old you are: you could die tomorrow in a hundred different ways. Nobody wants that, but it’s reality. Please invest the time to prepare a plan for someone to manage your digital legacy. Let your trusted legacy manager deal with your online life so your wishes will be respected and you’ll be represented as you wanted to be.