Posthumous Digital Management: A Guide To Planning Your Digital Estate

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Your life is more intertwined with the online world than you might think. Your social media profiles, personal blogs, online banking, and those cherished family photos tucked away in the cloud contribute to a unique digital footprint that tells your story. These digital assets are more than just data — they are a collection of your digital legacy.

Without proper planning, your digital inheritance could vanish or become unreachable after you’re gone. Crafting a comprehensive posthumous digital plan is therefore crucial to ensure the preservation and seamless management of our digital assets.

This guide helps you prepare for the handover of your digital life. It walks you through the essential steps for identifying your digital assets, managing account access, securing your digital legacy, and preparing your loved ones to navigate your digital footprint after you’re gone.

First, Identify Your Digital Assets

What Are Digital Assets?

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In today’s digital age, you likely have a range of electronic records and files stored across various platforms. Essentially, any digital record you maintain, from emails and social media profiles to online banking and subscription services, forms part of your digital assets. These are key components of what should be included in your Digital Estate Plan.

To give you a clearer picture, your digital assets may include:

  • Your email and social media accounts
  • Banking and subscription services online
  • E-commerce profiles on platforms like Amazon or eBay
  • Photos stored on Cloud platforms
  • Profiles on online dating or gaming sites
  • Utility accounts
  • Benefits from loyalty programs
  • Any personal data stored on your devices

It’s important to note that not everything falls into the digital asset category. For instance, the actual funds in your bank account, despite being accessible through digital bank statements, are not considered digital assets. Similarly, while the platforms managing your cryptocurrency are digital assets, the cryptocurrencies themselves (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.) are part of your estate under different regulations.

How Do You Plan Your Digital Estate in 4 Steps?

Step #1: Create an Inventory

You can begin managing your digital assets by first creating a detailed inventory. Categorise them by type, purpose, and relevance.

  • Types of Assets: Social media accounts, email accounts, online banking, cloud storage, etc.
  • Purpose: The primary use of each asset, whether personal, professional, or financial.
  • Relevance: Prioritise assets based on their importance and frequency of use.

💡 Managing financial assets stored in the digital space is a complex process worth exploring in-depth. To learn more about securing your monetary assets online, read this article here: Posthumous Digital Management: Securing Digital Financial Assets After Death.

Step #2: Document Account Details

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In addition to cataloguing your digital assets, it’s essential to document the details of all your online accounts and profiles. These can range from login credentials, and account numbers to security questions, and any other relevant information required to access and manage these accounts.

Maintaining an up-to-date record of your digital footprint will ensure your designated digital executor has access to your digital assets in the event of your passing. We’ll explore the topic of digital executors further below.

Step #3: Appoint a Digital Executor

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Instead of solely relying on loved ones, appointing a digital executor ensures that a knowledgeable and qualified individual, specifically designated and legally empowered, manages your digital assets efficiently and according to your wishes. Here’s a straightforward way to do it:

  • Choose Wisely: Start by selecting someone you can trust with your digital estate. This person should be digitally literate, clearly understand the basics of managing online accounts, and most importantly, qualified.
  • Discuss Your Wishes: Have an open and detailed discussion with your executor. Explain what each of your digital assets is and what you want done with them after your passing. This might include deleting certain accounts, transferring digital files to loved ones, or archiving your digital footprints.
  • Make It Legal:
    • Legal Documentation: Incorporate the appointment of your digital executor into your will or estate planning documents. This step often requires consultation with a legal professional to ensure compliance with your local laws.
    • Provide Access: Consider how your digital executor will access your accounts. Options include using a secure password manager as discussed above or providing a list of accounts and passwords stored securely that they can access when needed. Remember, the method chosen should respect the platforms’ terms of service and ensure security.
  • Update Regularly: As you acquire new digital assets or change passwords, keep your digital executor informed and your list of assets and access information up to date.

By providing clear instructions, designating a trusted digital executor, and securely storing all relevant information, you can ensure your loved ones are well-prepared to manage your digital legacy according to your wishes.

To learn more about the role and responsibilities of the digital executor, read this article here: Posthumous Digital Management: The Role of the Digital Executor

Step #4: Get Familiar With Social Media Account Policies

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Managing the social media accounts of the departed can be complicated depending on the policies of the chosen platform. Deleting their accounts can be as simple as logging in if you have the deceased’s account information. However, if you do not have their login credentials, things can get a little tricky.

For Facebook and Instagram, you have two options:

  1. Request to memorialise the account, which preserves the account and allows friends to post remembrances. This also prevents anyone from logging in or the account from appearing in public searches.
  2. If you are an immediate relative, request the account’s removal by providing proof of authority (e.g., power of attorney, birth certificate, will) and proof of death (e.g., obituary, memorial card).

Twitter does not distribute passwords to anyone, regardless of their relationship with the account holder. You can only deactivate the account by filling out an online form and providing a username, your real name, relationship with the account holder, email, and any additional helpful information.

Other examples include Snapchat’s policy to delete the account upon receiving a copy of the death certificate. LinkedIn allows you to close an account if you can provide proof of authority to act on behalf of the deceased member. Pinterest will close an account if provided with information about the deceased user and your relationship with them.

Setting Up Legacy Contacts

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Apple: For Apple Devices running iOS 15.2 or later, you can add a Legacy Contact for your Apple ID.

Facebook: Facebook lets you appoint a legacy contact for your account management or opt for account deletion.

Google: Google’s Inactive Account Manager lets you delete your account or send data to designated contacts after inactivity.

If the idea of someone else taking control of your digital footprints posthumously makes you pause and ponder the ethical considerations involved, you’re not wrong to feel concerned. Therefore, it’s crucial to find a balance that respects your privacy while preserving your legacy.

For a deeper dive into navigating these complex waters, explore this article: Posthumous Digital Identity Management: The Ethics of Balancing Privacy and Legacy Preservation

What Are Some Ways To Secure Your Digital Estate?

Sharing Access Credentials Via Password Managers

Sharing access credentials, such as passwords and login information, with trusted individuals is a crucial aspect of securing your digital legacy. This practice ensures that your loved ones can access your digital assets and accounts if needed.

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Bottom Line

Managing your digital footprint after your passing can be a daunting task for both you and your loved ones. However, with a carefully crafted digital legacy plan, you can ensure the smooth transition and preservation of your online footprint.

From identifying and documenting your digital assets to securing access credentials and providing clear instructions to designated executors, taking these essential steps will give your loved ones the peace of mind to respectfully manage your digital inheritance after you are gone.

While the process of digital legacy planning may seem complex, it ultimately serves as a meaningful way to extend your legacy and provide closure for those you leave behind. Not only do you safeguard your tangible assets but also the intangible memories and connections that make up your digital footprint.