“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”
—Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator
Everything we do on our digital devices, social networks, and communication channels can leave behind data, also known as our digital footprint. This data might be eternal, but we are definitely not. Taking steps now to make sure that your digital assets end up in the right hands after you die could avoid many potential issues, so here are some things to consider:
6 Steps to Consider for Planning Your Digital Estate
1. Understand potential hurdles.
Some sites, such as Facebook, Yahoo!, and FidSafe®, currently offer official ways for customers to designate someone to gain access to, manage, or close their accounts after they die. But other sites don’t make it so easy.
Each online service provider has its own terms of service (the legal terms you must read and agree to before you can use the service). Some sites prohibit you from transferring your account after your die. As a general rule, sharing passwords also violates most terms of service, could implicate federal and state laws, and can jeopardize the security of your assets.
These types of restrictions can make access to your email account, for example, by your spouse who may be trying to settle bills, very difficult, after you die. To decrease the chances of getting caught in some of these legal, administrative, and security hurdles, research and understand your options and work with your professional advisors.
FidSafe® Tip: Visit your FidSafe account settings to enroll in Sharing After Death, a complimentary feature that lets you appoint one trusted contact who is eligible to receive access to the stored notes and documents in your FidSafe after you die.
2. Empower a digital executor.
The concept of a digital executor is gaining traction in certain states. Even if it is not a legally recognized role, consider choosing someone you trust, who is technically savvy enough to understand your wishes for your digital assets. Ask your legal advisor about empowering such a person to gain access to and distribute your digital assets after you die.
3. Catalog your digital assets.
Unless you make and share a list of all your online accounts and other key digital property, it can be almost impossible to locate everything after you die. Consider listing anything digital that may be of value to you including any important information or data stored electronically whether it’s on a physical device (e.g., smartphone, computer, etc.), in the cloud, or online, including:
- Online accounts such as email, social media, banking, photo and video sharing, shopping accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage, and any other web sites or apps that you use regularly
- Domain names, digital currency, or other forms of digital property that exist wholly in the electronic world
- Intellectual property including copyrighted or trademarked materials, and any code, content, or imagery that you may have created or own
FidSafe Tip: You can use the My Online Accounts form in the FidSafe Fundamentals Kit to inventory your digital accounts and assets, minus passwords.
4. Decide how you would like each digital asset to be handled after you die.
It is up to you to determine the value of your digital property so that you can work with your advisor to best handle such assets after your death. Some digital assets have monetary value and some might not. Those that don’t, however, may have huge sentimental value to your family, such as family photos. Understanding the “value” of your digital assets may help you assess how you want such property handled after you die. Consider working with your legal advisor to document your wishes for each digital asset.
5. Securely store your digital estate plan.
If you create a digital estate plan, consider storing it in a highly secure place such as your lawyer’s office or a safety deposit box. Then, work with your advisor to consider appropriately noting the existence of this document and its whereabouts, potentially in your will. Do not replicate the list directly in your will because wills can become public documents after you die.
FidSafe Tip: Consider uploading a copy of your digital estate plan without passwords to FidSafe.
6. Discuss any digital estate plan with loved ones.
Given the complexity of digital assets, you may find it helpful to discuss your digital estate plan with your digital executor, the general executor of your will, and/or other loved ones, so that each stakeholder can voice questions or concerns while you are alive.
Do you have feedback on this article? Please email us.
*FidSafe does not provide individualized estate planning or legal advice, so check with your estate planning or legal advisor on rules or circumstances that may pertain to your specific situation.