Most people plan for their ultimate demise. Many lawyers who setup up wills, trusts and estates today include digital legacy items as well. But, many do not, and if they do, their list may not be complete.
If you set your will up many years ago, it might not include your digital legacy.
Think for a moment of your digital footprint. Do you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest? Do you store your photographs on Flickr or other photo service sites? What online services have you setup accounts with? What service do you use for email? Do you have storage with that company as well? What retail stores do you have accounts with? Did you use a service ten years ago that still has your data sitting on their server? If and when will the company destroy your content? These are the things that need to be considered
The digital afterlife for our parents or grandparents was much smaller than it will be for us. Before the internet the digital afterlife was comprised of perhaps a computer and some kind of backup device – perhaps a CD or tape backup. However it was stored, digital content was tangible in that it was stored on a device and was considered the same as all other tangible property when a decedent’s estate was being settled. With the internet, social media and cloud-based services, all that has changed. Now our digital footprint is in many places. Our information is stored on computers systems all over the world that are owned by the service, not by us. Each service has different rules of how, when and if content can be accessed by an heir. Our digital footprint can be so vast that we may not be aware how far it extends. Preparing our digital inheritance is another piece in the puzzle that must be in place for all our affairs to be in order. There are some basic things that need to be considered and things to think about and plan for.
The first step in getting our digital assets in order is to identify where they are located. The biggest issue of digital inheritance is often awareness, not legality.
If our heirs don’t know what we have, where we have been on the internet, what accounts we have established, or what services we use, they cannot do anything about it. Additionally, if they lack user names and passwords, they may have trouble accessing the sites. Many companies will allow heirs to close accounts, others do not. Most of us never think about what will happen to our accounts after our demise, but without a plan in place our heirs will be faced with the challenge of figuring it out. They will be forced to piece together each bit of the digital legacy of their relatives after they have passed on. We owe it to our children to get our things in order to make this job as simple and seamless as possible. Remember, in addition to needing to deal with our digital legacy, they will also be dealing with our material items at the same time – houses, clothing, furniture, tools, toys, etc.