Who Will Be in Charge of Your Digital Estate?
How much of each day do you spend online? If you’re like many Americans, the answer is a lot, and we’re spending more time online with each passing year. Now, think about what you do online. Do you shop? Operate a business? Store family photos? Communicate with family, friends and work associates through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn? And of course, there’s online banking and all those day-to-day email transactions. You likely have information scattered in various places on the internet, and for each online account, you have a username and a password. This is your digital estate.
If you passed away tomorrow (or even if you became incapacitated) would your family members know where to find all of your online accounts and all of your digital information? And, just as important, would they be able to access these things? Appoint a Digital Executor One way to make sure that your estate plan is complete and that your family is truly prepared for your death or disability is to name a “digital executor” to be responsible for accessing and dealing with your online accounts and other electronic information.
This person does not have to be the same as the executor named in your Will, but it should be someone who is comfortable with technology and in whom you have full confidence. What Your Digital Executor Needs to Know Once you’ve selected a digital executor, you’ll need to make sure he or she knows two things:
The location of your digital information. Your digital executor should know how to access your online accounts and the names and locations of important files. This means you’ll need to maintain a list of these accounts and files, along with an up-to-date username and password for each. The list should be kept in a secure location – you can choose to give it to your digital executor, or let your digital executor know where to find it in the event of your death or disability.
What to do with your digital information. If you become mentally disabled or pass away, what should happen to your digital information? Do you want your Facebook or other social networking accounts to be closed? What should happen to your emails? What about any photographs or important documents you’ve stored as digital files? You’ll want to think through these issues and leave instructions for your digital executor to follow.
Once you’ve made these important decisions, you’ll want to update your estate plan to formalize your choice of digital executor.