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Estate Planning For Your Digital Legacy

Updated on April 8, 2015

Once not so long ago, when someone died they were buried, and their belongings were divided among their next of kin, if they could be found. This was done with a will, written on paper, witnessed by several people stating the validity of the will, work fine. As laws became complex everyone with a house, not just the wealthy, needed a trust. Now we have come into the digital age; when a person dies it is more complicated. What is to be done with their internet legacy?

If you are reading this article you have a digital legacy. It took some kind of internet account to get here.

My dad died last January: he had no digital legacy. He never used a computer. He loved them, but his hands were too big and stiff to type. He did enjoy watching others surf the web. He had a living trust and will. Everything was beautifully in order, yet it is still a ton of work to execute his estate. Six months later we are still not done.

All of us wander the internet, but almost none of us have a plan for how our digital accounts will be disposed of when we pass on.

Where Do You Go On The Internet

Wherever you go on the internet you leave tracks. These tracks are your digital footprint. The privacy policies of Facebook, Google, Yahoo and other online social networks are to protect your privacy. Do you even know what privacy polices you have agreed to? How many times have you logged into a website and been asked to agree with terms of agreement? That is where the privacy polices get you. Admit it, we all have checked "Agree with terms" boxes when they pop up on our screens. Some times we all click on them with out reading the terms. These policies protect companies, but do they protect you?

When my mother passed away (2005) it took hours to convince her email provider to disconnect her email account.

The questions I ask here apply to me, as much as they do to my twelve year old friend who died recently from cancer. He had a Face Book account and email account his parents need to deal with immediately. Do they have a legal right to act on his accounts? It would be dreadful if the content of his accounts were lost to them forever especially because he blogged his cancer journey this way.

Up Date: Face Book has announced the establishment of a legacy contact. You may choose someone to be your legacy contact who will memorialize, or manage your Face Book account, according to your wishes after your death.

Some time ago I got a notice from Facebook that said," You should consider making Bob your friend" Creepy! Bob had died two weeks earlier. Last week I received an update notice for a friends blog, which got me to thinking. What happens to my friends blog when he dies?

Nobody likes to think about dieing but, the statistics are 100%, everybody dies sometime.

What will happen to my Hubs if I die? Who will get the money I make from my hubs? How will my followers and friends on Facebook know I am gone? I thought I was alone with this kind of thinking when I came across an article last April the American Airlines Sky magazine. Then ye January 5, 2013, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about a young girl who died suddenly. Her family circumvented her password to get into her computer. They thought they had rights to her accounts. They found they had no rights.The law says closest kin becomes owner of a deceased belongings if there isn't a will. That isn't so for your digital afterlife. Your next of kin may be breaking the law if they have your passwords and use your online accounts (Most privacy policies do not allow transfer of users). The intentions may be good, but these policies are confusing, too difficult to follow. What if a person wants to write a farewell notice for a deceased friend or relative. They would be breaking the contract. Yahoo and Facebook like remind people, "You agree with these privacy policies whenever you sign up for a new network or the company changes their policies". I suspect many are like me, you bog down after 3 minutes of reading this legalese.

Digital Personal Representative

Websites like Facebook and Yahoo do not acknowledge anyone but you having legal access to your accounts. Without someone you trust having access to those accounts your Facebook and Twitter accounts can be permanently deleted. You may have a personal representative or trustee, but that isn't good enough to allow them to have access to those accounts. A digital personal representative is someone who will have access to your internet accounts. Since they have lists of sites you use, usernames and passwords they have more clout than just a family member. Even if with a representative like this with all the information the waters of internet law are untested.

Do you have someone who you trust to do this? Wow! Who can you trust? If you are very young this is especially important. Your parents may not have the technology sophistication needed. What responsibility do parents have concerning minors account?

Movement From The Physical To The Digital

Reading Billy Buck's hub on Living Simply confirmed that living for your stuff is out of style. We are moving from the physical stuff to the digital age. Think about it. Who has a land line phone these days? When you start to write do you reach for a pen and paper or sit at your computer? Where is your address book? Do you get a paper bank statement? i tunes?

Watching Antique Road Show lately every one of the appraisers said, "Seven years ago your,,, would have been more". As we simplify the amount of stuff we have much of what we do have is on the net or in the cloud. Where are your photographs? Snapfish or Shutterfly? If you died tomorrow are those photographs lost to your family forever? What will you do to protect your photos? Making books online then giving as gifts is always a good way to make sure somebody has the pictures you love..

Your Digital Afterlife

John Romano and Evan Carroll have written a book to help you. They have all sorts of ideas on how to manage your digital life. This book is an excellent springboard for answering many of the questions I have brought up.

Websites That Specialize In Digital Estate Planning

Some other assets for deciding what to do to manage your digital afterlife are

  1. Legacy Locker
  2. Claim ID has gone out of business. Which is another factor to think about while managing your digital legacy.
  3. Secure safe

This is not an endorsement of the author for any of these companies. Hopefully they will give you ideas to research your digital afterlife options.

I can't say that I am ready to allow some online company manage my passwords. Regardless of whether you put your passwords in a safe deposit box or use an online management system you will need to update those repositories whenever you change your password. For someone who changes passwords frequently keeping current is going to be a challenge. Managing your digital afterlife will be a challenge, but worth it to your loved ones.

This article raises more questions than it answers. The area of digital legacy is going to be a hot topic in the future as we become more and more attached to our digital presence. I know this article asks many questions that don't have answers, still they need to be asked. One thing I can say for certain; laws about internet legacy are going to change in the next few days and years and that's the truth.

So What To Do To Protect My Digital Legacy?

To protect my digital legacy I need to gather a list of all the websites where I have accounts. Write them down with the username and password for each account. That is going to be a trick; I have accounts that I don't use any longer or I change the password regularly. Once I have written these down they need to be in a safe place where my trusted someone will find them. That place needs to be safe enough that a crook won't find them.

Someone to trust. I have a person who I trust explicitly with everything. I am the exception. Do not put your usernames and passwords in your will. They become public domain and open to thieves.

As morbid as it sounds, writing an obituary to be posted on Facebook and Hub Pages would be a good idea. I have been meaning to plan my funeral for 36 years and haven't gotten around to it.

If you have extra money you can invest in companies like I.D.claim, Legacy Locker,or Secure Safe.


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    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 4 years ago from Hawai'i

      Wow, what a fascinating hub subject. I've thought about it 'peripherally', if that makes sense. It's going to be another thing to plan for, especially as a writer. Goodness, that will require me to get organized & actually write down my passwords & put them all in one place. Spooky. I've bookmarked your hub & added this as a goal of mine for 2013. Voted up, useful, interesting & tweeted out. Aloha, Stephanie

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      Hey Stephanie what a good idea. I have been thinking so much about this hub and another I have been planning I haven't set any goals. This should be my top one for 2013. Thanks for the idea.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It was only a matter of time before someone offered these services. Very interesting to read about, and thank you for the mention. Much appreciated my friend.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Interesting information. Daunting really.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      mckbirdks, Indeed. Dealing with my parents estate was daunting, but nothing compared to this. I had to disconnect my mom's hot mail account after she passed. It was ridiculous. I spent a lot of time on the phone before someone disconnected it. That was 7 years ago.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Sorry for your loss. Also the ordeal of dealing with all the details

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      You are so kind.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Not a subject many people are thinking about but as you've pointed out one they should be thinking about! The digital age has truly altered how we live AND die! Great hub TT.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      Thanks tillsontitan for visiting. Thanks for the vote. avoidance is always a bad way to deal with a problem. I really need follow my own advice.

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      Thought-provoking! I have it on my list for this week! Now to try to make sure I do it - get all my passwords etc safely in the hands of my daughter.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      Vickiw, Oh dear here it is day 14 of the year 2013 and I still haven't don't it. Thanks for reminding me.

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 4 years ago from Jamaica

      I have thought about this. I am just going to take care of it the day after next.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      rasta1- This really takes a ton of energy. I write the information down then say ,"Where should I put it? We just had a death in our family. There were no computers and it is difficult enough to cope with papers you know are all in the safety deposit box or the house. Floating through the cloud is another story completely. Thanks for commenting

    • pinkdaisy profile image

      pinkdaisy 4 years ago from Canada

      This is a great hub on a very important issue!

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      The morning show of a local radio station did a piece on this yesterday. Nobody wants to think about it, but it is necessary.

    • John MacNab profile image

      John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      You have raised a number of points we ( my wife and I ) have been considering for some time. We have been talking of making wills, and because our daughters and grandchildren won't want any of the physical stuff, we are auctioning that off and giving it to charites. But what do we do with the online sites? An excellent hub tirelesstraveler, and we had better figure out some answers - fast.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      John, ask the grands what they want. My father-in-law passed in February. Going through dad's stuff our kids wanted some of the strangest things. When my mom passed the only thing my brother and I had any dispute about was something that had belonged to our grandmother.

      I heartily commend you for down sizing. Dad left us with a mess of junk. Because of the time crunch lots of things that should have been donated went into a dumpster. I wish I had some ideas to help, but the questions are just being asked and the answers haven't necessarily be created. I wonder if Hub Pages has policies on this. I know one hubber who died a couple of months ago.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      This is something I have thought about. But I have not handled it very well yet. Your article is extremely informative. I was thinking of putting my username and passwords in my will. But I never realized that this becomes public domain, and I'm glad you mentioned that, so now I know. I never did it anyway, for another reason. I keep changing passwords once in a while, and it would be a nightmare to constantly update the will just for that. So there has to be a better way. And the problem with privacy policies definitely affects all of this too. As you had mentioned.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 3 years ago from California

      When you figure a good way to deal with this let me know. I see this as a huge nightmare. I am with you, I change my passwords . I have had a new computer for a week now and everything is still on the old one waiting to be trsnsfered. If I am that slow doing something fun what hope is there for humdrum.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Actually that video you have at the top describes a good way to deal with it. Put you passwords in a safe deposit box and assign a "digital executor" in your will. That way only that executor has access to the passwords.

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