Digital Estate Planning Part 3: Passwords and Instructions

At the root of many of digital estate planning issues is the question of passwords.  Almost all digital assets, computers, and online accounts are password protected.  Passwords are a moving target because they may frequently change.

What makes this matter more complicated is that it is generally recommended for security reasons,  i.e. creating strong passwords with different characters and symbols, changing  your passwords frequently,  using different passwords for different accounts, and above all,  never writing  your passwords  down  makes providing password information to surviving  friends  and family very difficult.

Despite security concerns, it is always a good idea to keep a hand written or printed list of your passwords in a safe, a deposit box, with your estate planning lawyer, or with a trusted individual and to update the list regularly when your passwords change.  It is easier to find a key to a filing cabinet or combination to a safe than it is to guess a myriad of passwords.

Even if have all the passwords and are granted access to your loved one’s various accounts and devices, digital assets can be hard to find.   Locating various files and important documents can be difficult without any idea of how they are organized.

You probably don’t have folders on your computer that are named “Important Financial Stuff”, “Account Information” or “Passwords” in the event that someone breaks into your computer system or steals your computer.

For this reason, a digital estate plan should also include an outline or diagram of the file organizational structure of a computer or email account.  This helps heirs or beneficiaries to easily navigate your digital estate.

Provide Instructions for the Digital Estate

After your survivors have located and been granted access to your digital assets, they may be wondering what to do with them.  There are many instances where including instructions in your digital estate plan can help your heirs or beneficiaries.

Consider these examples:

A local musician may want his website to be continued rather than closing it down.  He or she may want the rights to their online catalogue of music under the management of a particular individual.  They may want the proceeds from the sale of their music on various online accounts such as iTunes left to a certain individual.

A popular blogger may want his or her heirs to monetize the blog with advertising.  Even if the blogger wants their sites closed down, they might want a copy made beforehand the site closes.

A celebrity may want their Facebook to continue updating statuses about charity events in their name.  Even non-celebrities may want an heir to send notifications about when and where the funeral will take place.

There are several other revenue producing items that heirs can realize. A photographer may want to post their collection for sale online.    If a writer was in the middle of a novel, there could be an opportunity to publish the unfinished work either in paper or as an e-book.

Digital estate planning also includes making a list of do-not-delete items, such as digitized old family videos or photos.

Just like a traditional estate plan or will, it is important to update the list every so often as new online presences are created or digital assets acquired. Death in the digital world has been with us for many years and the need to manage digital assets has grown exponentially.

Digital Estate Planning Part 1: Taking the First Bytes

Digital Estate Planning Part 2: Taking Inventory