Filmmaker and writer Nora Ephron is famous for saying, “Marriages come and go, but divorce is forever.” Well, so, too, is the internet, as Ms. Ephron would probably attest if she were still with us. Meaning your digital presence will likely continue long into the hereafter.
This modern-day revelation makes it more important than ever to protect your online and digital presence after you die. Though you won’t be around to see what happens, the legacy you leave online (depending on how well you prepare) can help your friends, family, and heirs by bringing them comfort and clarity. Or it can come to haunt them, whether because of how difficult it proves to track and gain access to your digital assets or because you, via your digital legacy, have become the victim of fraud.
Fortunately, there are effective ways to protect your digital presence after you die. But first, it is imperative to understand what your digital presence is and how pervasive it might be.
What is your digital presence?
In its simplest form, your digital presence is how you appear online. Most people have a digital presence. Even the most private of sorts, the individuals who are careful about the information they put on the internet, the ones who shun social media, would be surprised to know that they exist in some form digitally.
According to a recent Forbes article, the average person under age 70 has more than 160 digital accounts. That is a lot of information for you to account for during your lifetime. And your heirs once you die.
Your digital presence can bring your loved ones comfort when you die in many ways. Facebook, for example, allows those who knew you to continue to visit photos and writings of yours freely simply by allowing you to choose whether you will want your page to continue after you die or get deactivated. Therefore, you might want to take steps now to preserve that opportunity for them.
On the flip side, unfortunately, there are those unsavory characters who look for opportunities to use a deceased person’s digital presence for fraudulent purposes. As much as you want to take measures to protect your information during your lifetime, you want to do the same after you die.
The last thing you will want is your assets, including your good name, to fall into the hands of the wrong people. Not to mention, it will leave a headache for your heirs, who will have to navigate these challenging situations, which can go as far as identity theft, even after you are gone.
What information from your digital presence should you compile?
Now that you understand what your digital presence is, you can begin the process of compiling all of the information that makes it up. If you die, having these records readily accessible will be of great assistance to your executor and heirs. Your list should include the following:
- Your digital footprint (information you share online)
- Usernames and passwords (your cell phone, computer, iPad, bank accounts, and pretty much anywhere you log in, from where you pay bills to where you stream a movie)
- Instructions about how to access your accounts
- Your intentions for the accounts following your death (e.g., decide whether you want to have your Facebook page memorialized or shut down)
Find a digital executor.
A digital executor is the person you name in your will to manage your digital property after you die. This person will have the power to handle such tasks as shutting down your social media accounts, for example, or placing a memorial status on them (if that is an option) and you have not already made this designation on the platform yourself during your lifetime.
The person you name as a digital executor can be different from the one you name as the executor of your will. The role of a digital executor is confined to managing your digital assets only.
Your digital executor should be someone you trust. They should also be somewhat savvy about what a digital presence is and how to navigate it. For instance, appointing your grandmother who has trouble turning on a computer or does not understand what the internet is might not be your best choice.
There are some actions you can take today, even before choosing a digital executor, to ensure your final wishes will be honored, such as selecting a legacy contact on Facebook. Your iPhone offers an update that allows you to choose a legacy contact as well. This option will give the person you name access to your data and photos, in addition to other valuable information.
But even with the availability of these direct designation options, it is still a good idea to include your digital presence in your estate plan, beginning with naming a digital executor. An estate planning attorney who understands the importance of these safeguards and the nuances involved can help.
Consider a digital vault.
Of course, you can compile everything related to your digital presence on your own. But for the sake of organization and convenience, some individuals choose to put that information into what is known as a digital vault. The following list reflects a handful but certainly not all of the accounts you can place in yours:
- Online photos
- Online videos
- Blogs and blog posts
- Online family trees
- Social-media accounts
- Frequent-flyer accounts
- Hotel loyalty program accounts
- Credit card point accounts
- Streaming services
- Cryptocurrency accounts
When using a digital vault, you will first need to create a list of your digital assets, then specify how you would like these assets to be handled upon your death. The advantage of using a digital vault is that it provides an incentive to help you consolidate your information.
Numerous companies offer this service. Directive Communication Systems, Mylennium, Clocr, and AfterVault are just a few of them. When choosing a provider, it is wise to check the company’s reviews regarding ease of use and how much direction they provide, but, most importantly, about its security. You want to choose a company you are comfortable with, which is also reputable. The company should also provide you with guidance about choosing a digital executor and facilitating the transition of your accounts to that person.
When using a digital vault, you will still need to keep up with any updates you make to your digital presence, such as your new logins and passwords or if you open or close accounts. A significant advantage of having a digital vault is that you have one place to go to make all of your changes and can do so quickly and easily.
Include your digital presence in your estate plan.
For all of the reasons mentioned earlier, many estate planning documents today contain provisions for digital assets. This is a relatively new trend in estate planning and one of the myriads of reasons why it is so important to revisit your estate plan regularly. Times change.
Speaking of which, as you age, life events can similarly impact how you might like to distribute your assets after you die. Any life passage is cause to revisit your estate plan to ensure that your intentions will be honored after you die. Some life events that come immediately to mind are the birth of a child or grandchild, the death of a spouse, marriage, or divorce. However, there can be others, such as the sale of a business or an interest in one. Just changing your mind is enough reason to revisit your estate plan.
Contact a Seattle estate planning lawyer to protect your digital presence.
If you are unsure whether you need to make changes to your existing estate plan, you want to add specific instructions about handling your digital presence after you die, or you would like to create a new estate plan altogether, contact one of our Seattle estate planning lawyers. Our team is well-versed in the estate planning laws of the State of Washington and can address your individual needs.
Thinking about what will happen after you die is not the most pleasant of topics to think about, but it is one of the most critical. When it comes to your digital presence, you want to protect it the same way you would while alive.
An estate planning attorney can help you take the necessary steps for doing that, giving you and your heirs the peace of mind you want and deserve. Contact us today.