The fact that part of our lives is now carried out digitally has added a whole new level of complexity to the death of a loved one (or yourself).
What happens to your digital presence when you or a loved one dies or becomes incapacitated? Should we create a digital inheritance plan?
It wasn’t something people thought about 20 years ago, but as the internet fills with social media accounts for people that are no longer with us and digital currency that’s locked behind a password sits inaccessible, ensuring someone has access to digital assets if something happens to you is becoming a very real necessity.
Digital inheritance is about more than just having someone post that a loved one had died on their Facebook page for their followers, in some cases there’s a lot more at stake in their online assets that may be lost forever if someone doesn’t inherit the password to unlock them.
One example of the type of sticky situation that can arise if there’s no digital inheritance plan is the case ofthe owner of Canada’s biggest crypto-currency exchange, Gerald Cotton. Mr. Cotton died suddenly and had thousands of investors that were owed money. There was $145 million in bitcoin along with other assets that could be used to pay them, but it was all locked behind a password and encrypted laptop that not even his wife knew how to access.
Another concern is cloud storage services that can be holding priceless family photos and videos or valuable IP or other important assets. What happens if they can’t be accessed?
Learn the steps you can take to protect yourself and your family should anything happen.
Coming Up with a Digital Inheritance Plan
Just think about all the things you now either access online or keep online in some type of cloud-based account. We put multiple assets behind passwords, challenge questions, and two-factor authentication prompts. For someone trying to unravel all that after we passed on or become incapacitated in some way, it would be mean some serious challenges.
The average email address is associated with 130 different online accounts.
Just think off the top of your head the types of digital footprint you have, and you may come up with things like:
- Social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn)
- Online and mobile banking
- Online shopping accounts (Amazon, Walmart, Target, Etsy)
- Streaming services (Netflix, Disney+, etc.)
- Master services accounts (Google, Microsoft, iCloud)
- Payment wallets (Apple Pay, Google Pay)
- Online bill paying (Cable, electricity, water)
- Digital medical records
Once you start writing it all down, it becomes clear how important it is to come up with a digital inheritance plan for you and your family. Here are some tips to get you started down the right path.
Take an Inventory of Your Digital Assets
Often people don’t even remember how many different digital accounts they have on a daily basis. An important first step is to securely catalog each of your accounts and their logins.
All accounts won’t be as important, for example that account on cheese.com you used 5 years ago to buy holiday gifts but doesn’t have a payment card saved to it will be much less important to pass on than your Google password that logs into both your email and Drive storage account.
While taking inventory, here are some things to do:
- A safer way to store all accounts and passwords than in a spreadsheet on your hard drive, may be a password manager. They only need one password to unlock them and can then be used to access all your other accounts.
- As you’re doing inventory of your accounts, reduce your digital “baggage” by deleting old online accounts that you don’t need any longer.
Decide Who Will Inherit Your Digital Assets
Digital assets can include everything from a review website you created that’s earning $1,000 in ad dollars every month to your login to the digital movie archive you’ve been building up for years. You want to treat these assets just as any others and include them in a will and decide who will be the beneficiary of each one.
Assign Legacy Contacts on Social Media Sites
Once they realized the issue happening with people passing away and no one having access to their social media history, Facebook and other social media services started setting up legacy contacts for accounts that could manage (in limited ways) the account of someone that had died.
Decide if you want to have anyone be your legacy contact, then assign them in the various social media accounts with that option.
Include Instructions for Digital Asset Inheritance in Your Will
When making your will, include your digital assets and the instructions for accessing them, i.e. a login to a password manager or location of a secure list of your logins.
It’s a good idea to let a trusted friend or family member know in advance that you’ve included digital assets in your will, as not everyone will think of those first in the emotional whirlwind that follows the death of a loved one. So, they may be unaware that you had left your banking login and because of that they ended up having a much more difficult time accessing assets that you may have wanted passed down to your children, spouse, or other family members.
What to Expect if There’s No Inheritance Plan
If you’ve had a loved one pass on and you’re the beneficiary of their inheritance, but they haven’t left a plan for digital assets or any of their passwords. You’ll want to get as much help as possible from friends and family understanding what accounts they may have.
Looking through browser history on their computer can help uncover some of them as well as their bank account for any recurring debits that may be from online services.
When contacting an online service for help, they will most likely require both a copy of a death certificate and a court document that designates you as their estate executor. Different services may have different requirements, as this is also a fairly new area they’re navigating as well.
Need Help Organizing Your Digital Assets?
It’s better to get your digital assets organized now rather than later. If you need help setting up a password manager or proper security for a list of digital assets, Magnify247.com can help.
Contact us today for a consultation at 317-565-7094 or through our webform.