A digital legacy is the collection of digital assets, information and online accounts that a person leaves behind after they pass away. Managing and preserving this digital legacy ensures that the person’s online presence and digital assets are handled according to their wishes and for the benefit of their heirs or chosen beneficiaries.
In this guide, learn how to work your digital legacy into your estate plan to preserve or close out your digital traces after passing. Be sure to also use our login tracker so your family can easily access your online accounts after your death.
- A digital legacy instructs family or friends on how you want your digital assets and online presence to be handled after your passing.
- A digital legacy is not legally binding but should be combined with your will and estate plan.
- The executor of your digital legacy should be someone you trust.
- To keep your passwords and other credentials safe, consolidate them into a single password manager.
Why Is a Digital Legacy Important?
Your digital legacy allows your family to access your accounts and logins after your passing to obtain or protect any sensitive information. It’s a blueprint that tells others exactly how you want your accounts or anything related to your presence online to be taken care of.
For example, you may want someone in your family to delete a social media profile or to pass along essential documents saved in a password-protected folder online. Unfortunately, a recent study found that 97% of survey respondents have no plans of incorporating a digital legacy into their plans.
If something happened to you and you didn’t have your digital legacy prepared, your family would not be able to access these assets, and there could be an increased risk of identity theft, scams or even damage to your reputation.
These digital assets typically include:
- Email accounts
- Digital photos
- Social media profiles
- Online subscriptions
- Investment accounts
- Health records
- Any other digital records or online passwords
5 Steps To Create Your Digital Legacy
A digital legacy plan is a non-legally binding document similar to a letter. It should be combined into your estate plan, such as your will, to ensure your final wishes are carried out.
Here are some easy steps to follow as you craft your digital legacy:
1. Make an Inventory of Your Digital Assets
Compile all your digital assets, credentials and logins into a list. You may have many accounts and ones that you haven’t used in years, but gather as many as possible. Be sure also to check the accounts you downloaded onto your phone, like apps and phone storage accounts.
Tip: To refresh your memory, you can search your internet search history or bookmarks to find accounts you may have forgotten about.
2. Organize Your Assets
Categorize and organize your digital assets to make them more manageable. To do this, simply create a detailed inventory or catalog including account names, URLs, usernames, passwords and other relevant information. You can do this on paper or type it out on an online document on your computer.
3. Choose an Executor for Your Digital Legacy
Select a trusted individual, like a family member or close friend, who is tech-savvy and capable of managing your digital affairs. The person you choose will be responsible for carrying out your wishes and instructions regarding your digital assets. This person should be designated in your will or power of attorney.
Tip: Whoever you choose, make sure it’s someone you can trust, and that can be a neutral figure in case of any family conflict.
Read More: How To Set Up a Trust
4. Lay Out Your Wishes and Instructions
Document your preferences in detail for each digital asset — this ensures that your executor knows what to do with your assets. Clearly outline what you want to happen with each account, file or piece of content after your passing. Be specific about who should have access and what they should do.
Here are some example instructions for different types of assets:
- For email addresses: You could instruct your executor to access your email accounts, such as Gmail or Yahoo, and print, delete or archive important information from emails.
- For social media profiles: Social media accounts like Instagram and Facebook will typically get deleted after being inactive for a long period, but you could have your executor create a memorial account in your name.
- For financial or health accounts: Instructions for these types of accounts could be to pay outstanding bills, transfer money or cancel accounts after passing.
- For subscriptions: You may want to cancel your subscriptions after you pass, so you’d also have to give your subscription information over.
- For seller accounts: If you sell on merchant sites like Etsy, you can tell your executor that you wish to close the store or give someone the ability to keep running it for you.
- For photos and other keepsakes: If you have photos that you keep online or other special keepsakes, you can instruct your executor to save them or print them out to share with family or friends.
If you’re unsure where to start, we’ve created an asset tracker template you can reference.
5. Pass Along Credentials
After you’ve compiled your digital legacy, you can pass it along to your executor. Keep your legacy in a safe place, whether it’s a hard drive or a secure physical location. Also, you can consult with an attorney to ensure that your digital legacy planning aligns with your will and other legal documents. Incorporate digital asset management provisions into your estate planning to provide a legal framework for your wishes.
Tip: Consider storing all of your credentials within a password management service. With this tool, you can store your passwords all in one place with one master credential that you can give your executor. It’s also a great way to safeguard your information.
Read More: Wills vs. Trusts
Tips for Managing Your Digital Legacy
Managing a digital legacy requires careful planning and organization, and it’s also important to effectively communicate your wishes to your family members. Here are some tips for both managing a digital legacy and advising your family:
- Begin early: It’s never too early to plan your digital legacy, and it’s great to weave this into your overall legacy planning process. Starting early can ensure that you have your bases covered in terms of making sure you have all your digital assets accounted for.
- Use a password manager: A password manager combines all your credentials into one place for easy access. Plus, a password manager often contains security features to protect your information.
- Back up your data: Another step to secure your passwords and information is to back up your files on your computer or external hard drive. If you do this, make sure your executor knows how to access the files that you backed up.
- Make your instructions as clear as possible: Being specific helps ensure that all directions are followed to your liking after you pass.
- Update your digital legacy regularly: The great thing about a digital legacy is being able to update as frequently as you want — make sure to update documents with new accounts or information as time passes.
- Give updates about any legal documentation: Inform your family of any legal documents, such as your will or trust, that include provisions for digital asset management.
Putting together your digital legacy is essential for preserving memories, protecting digital assets, providing support to loved ones and ensuring that your online presence aligns with your values and wishes even after you’re no longer here.
Taking proactive steps to manage your digital legacy can meaningfully impact your legacy and the well-being of those you leave behind. Consider hiring an attorney today to help you organize your estate planning.
Read More: Tips for Leaving an Inheritance
Printable Digital Legacy Asset Tracker
To help you stay as organized as possible while you put together your digital legacy, consider printing out this asset tracker. You can use it to track and write down important information and credentials you want to add.