A Comprehensive Plan for Your Digital Legacy
Digital estate planning is the practice of organising your digital property and assets and creating arrangements for what should happen to that property after your death.
Documenting your wishes for online accounts can ease heartache for loved ones. One of the more challenging realities of estate planning is recognising that while you can provide for your family after you’re gone, your presence will be missed. However, thanks to your digital identity, your social media accounts, Facebook in particular, can carry on after you’re gone. Determining what to do with your digital assets is a new frontier of estate planning and an increasingly crucial component of a successful plan.
Digital estates are more valuable than you may think. A McAfee investigation from 2011 suggested that the average person’s digital legacy is worth £25,000 – and that is not just irreplaceable memories and photos. Consider your airlines miles, rewards points, prepaid products, service and cash-back bonuses.
In the UK, online assets such as social media data rest with the service provider upon death. Solicitors and legal academics in the UK have called for new legislation empowering people to decide what happens to their digital legacy when they pass away, including by making a section for online data to be included in wills.
Ensure the recording of a written digital inventory
There is no straightforward way to uncover all of your online accounts for your loved ones should you die. It is important to record this information to make locating these easier for your loved ones in the event of your death. Digital estate planning professionals recommend breaking the inventory into four separate categories:
- Financial accounts
- Email and social media accounts
- Digital assets such as photos, music, books and intellectual property
Financial accounts should be recorded and securely stored where your fiduciary can easily find them. As well as bank and brokerage accounts, be sure to note insurance and retirement information.
To handle online password management, there are online facilities which can help collect and store all your online accounts and password. Additionally, some service providers such as Google and Facebook allow for legacy planning. Google has an ‘inactive account manager’ feature that lets people designate an emergency contact who will be notified after a period of inactivity and Facebook has a ‘memorialisation’ feature that lets an individual manage certain features of your account after death.
It is important to remember that once you have designated a digital fiduciary, that individual will now have access to all of your digital presence and everything that may contain. In most instances, that person will be able to see your financial transactions, read your emails, review messages and load history. For this reason, many people choose to designate an alternative digital executor to avoid any additional family grief. It is important to discuss with that individual and your legal representatives, what rights you have to keep certain digital assets private, should you wish to do so.
We also recommend you speak with your financial advisor and legal representative to get additional advice on digital estate planning.