Estate planning for your digital assets

Earlier this week, we published a post on estate organizing to help others after you’ve passed. It’s an uncomfortable topic, but an important one that we would like to explore a little more. Today, I want to point out how this applies to your digital life — photos, music, and a variety of documents that we store digitally have sentimental value, monetary value, or significant meaning to surviving family or friends. Who will gain access to them after you’re gone? And how?

Leave your logins

The most obvious thing you can do is also among the most important: leave a list of your login information in a secure location. A simple list of passwords and usernames stored in a safety deposit box, for example, could save your surviving family, friends and colleagues a lot of headache. If you’re like me and change this information regularly, make sure your list is up to date. If you use a program like 1Password, as Jeri recommended Tuesday, be sure your contact person knows how to use this service and won’t be surprised to find only one master password on your list.

Make sure your information will be accessible

You’ll want to “future proof” this list of online credentials. That is to say, ensure (as best you can) that it’ll still be readable in the future. The easiest way to do this, of course, is with a good old pen and a piece of paper.

Plain Text format is a good way to go. As David Sparks explained on his website MacSparky, “There’s something to be said for the use of plain text files. Text is simple. Text files are easy to read on any computer running any operating system and don’t require any proprietary word processor to interpret. Even more important, text files can be read by humans. Keeping your writings in text makes them digitally immortal.” That’s serious future proofing.

Online services

Beyond that, there are services to help you estate plan your digital life. As The New York Times pointed out, Google has a service called the Inactive Account Manager. In short, it monitors your account for inactivity over a custom period of time. You tell Google how long your account must be inactive before the service triggers (Three months? Twelve?) and who should receive a message from Google once the criteria has been met (you can ID up to 10 people). Once Google is satisfied that your account is truly inactive, it lets your recipients know how they can download your images, videos, documents, or other data.

You may also consider a digital “safety deposit box.” SecureSafe lets you store 50 passwords, 10 megabytes of files, and name one beneficiary for free.

You certainly don’t want to put that information in a will. Why? Alexandra Gerson, a lawyer at Helsell Fetterman in Seattle, told The New York Times, “Don’t put user names and passwords in your will, though, as it becomes a public record when you die.”

Regarding your beneficiary or other representative, you’ll want to make sure she or he is tech savvy. This person should have no trouble accessing your information, once provided with the necessary credentials. Also, make sure that she or he understands that digital assets can be just as valuable or meaningful as those in the brick-and-mortar world.

Finally, many digital purchases can be accessed by several authorized devices. For example, Apple lets up to five computers run the same iTunes account and Amazon will let family members use the same ID. Likewise, the Kindle app running on an authorized iPad or iPhone will give your surviving family members access to your books and other relevant purchases.

I hope these two posts help with the organization of your assets, and consideration of who will be in charge of them once you’re gone. It’s not the cheeriest subject in the world, but it will make things a bit easier for your loved ones when you’re gone or unable to care for your affairs.

2 Comments for “Estate planning for your digital assets”

  1. posted by Carrie on

    Facebook lets you lock the person’s account down as a “memorial” page. You will have to contact Facebook directly, and they will want a link to the obit so that they can verify before they lock it down. This prevents people from posting on it. You can of course leave it as-is, or delete it entirely.

    Don’t forget the Forward feature in GMail and other mail systems. It keeps me from having to check multiple accounts.

    If the person does any e-commerce (runs eBay auctions or has an Etsy store), act quickly to get those shut down. Make sure that you also close out the tax certificate if they had one.

    Out of all the things I had to close down, I found that Paypal proved the hardest to fully close out. I’d think it was done, and then an automatic transaction would go through and it would re-open and I’d get nastygrams. On the person’s Paypal account, make SURE that you go in and unauthorize any recurring transactions before you talk to them to close it down. You will have to have either POA (if the person is alive) or letters testamentary to close it down.

    The password keeper I like is called KeePass. By storing the file in a shared Dropbox location, my sibling and I can both access it to do what’s needed with the estate.

  2. posted by Gypsy packer on

    Be vigilant of any use of obituaries as proof of death. One well-known Southern paper is known to run the occasional fake obit, usually from a certain politically connected mortuary. I doubt that it’s the only one. Anything with a connection to life insurance payoffs will have associated scams, including but not limited to death certificates issued and then cancelled, or SS death index reports filed in-house by relatives of the perp/”deceased”.

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