It’s important to plan for what happens to your digital legacy after you are gone.
By Jon Aldrich
In today's digital age, we are more connected than ever before. From social media to online banking, we rely on digital platforms for almost every aspect of our lives. However, as we increasingly rely on these platforms, we also need to consider how our digital presence will be handled after our death. This is known as our digital legacy, and it's important to take steps to protect it. Since you make plans for your physical assets and heirlooms to be handled as you wish, you also should plan for your digital assets and online accounts.
What is a digital legacy?
A digital legacy refers to the digital footprint that we leave behind after our death. It includes all the information and data that we have shared online, such as social media profiles, email accounts, online bank accounts, subscriptions, photos and any other digital assets. Without proper planning, these digital assets can be lost, misused, or even exploited by cybercriminals.
Why is it important to protect your digital legacy?
There are several reasons why it's important to protect your digital legacy. First, our digital presence often contains a lot of personal and sensitive information, such as our financial records, photos, and personal communications. If left unattended, this information can be accessed by cybercriminals, leading to identity theft and other malicious activities.
Second our digital legacy can be a source of comfort for our loved ones after our death. For example, social media accounts can be a way for family and friends to share memories and connect with each other. By protecting our digital legacy, we can ensure that our loved ones have access to this important part of our lives after we're gone.
Third, it can be a major ordeal for heirs and loved ones to unravel, get access to and close down online accounts if you have not supplied the necessary information to those in charge of your estate (Executor, Trustee, etc.). Also, things such as airline miles and hotel points can be assigned to beneficiaries.
Lastly, by protecting our digital legacy, we can ensure that our wishes are respected after our death. For example, if we have certain preferences about how our social media profiles should be handled, such as being deleted or memorialized, we can include these instructions in our digital will.
How to protect your digital legacy?
Now that we understand the importance of protecting our digital legacy, let's explore some practical steps that we can take to achieve this:
1.Take an inventory of your digital assets: The first step in protecting your digital legacy is to take an inventory of all your digital assets. This can include social media accounts, online bank and credit card accounts, email accounts, and any other online platforms that contain personal information (Amazon, streaming services, etc.) Make a list of all the usernames and passwords, using either a spreadsheet, 3 ring binder, password manager etc. and let those who need to know where this document or files reside if they need to gain access. I just reviewed my list of passwords and it has about 400 sites that have password access on it, although there are probably a couple hundred that I don’t use any more so I should probably do some pruning.
2.Choose a digital executor: Just like you choose an executor for your will, it is important to choose a digital executor to manage your digital assets after your death. This person should be someone you trust and who has the technical knowledge to handle your digital accounts. Make sure to discuss your wishes with them and provide them with all the necessary information to access your accounts.
3.Create a digital will: A digital will is a legal document that outlines your wishes for your digital assets after your death. It can include instructions on how to handle your social media accounts, email accounts, and online bank accounts. A digital will can be created by an attorney or online service, and it is important to ensure that it is legally binding. If you don’t have a digital will, you should at least have a conversation with your family and loved ones about how to handle your digital legacy.
4.Set up two-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to your online accounts. It requires you to enter a code sent to your phone or email in addition to your password. This helps to prevent unauthorized access to your accounts, even if your password is compromised.
5.Regularly update your passwords: It is important to regularly update your passwords to ensure that your accounts remain secure. Use strong passwords that are not easily guessable and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. This is where a password manager can really make this a lot easier and at the same time keep your list of accounts always updated automatically. Plus, it is easy to give someone access to it if needed.
6.Keep your software up to date: Keeping your software up to date is essential to protect your digital assets from security vulnerabilities. Install updates for your operating system, web browser, and any other software that you use regularly.
7.Back up your data: Backing up your data is important to ensure that your digital assets are not lost in case of a hardware failure or other disaster. Store your backups in a secure location, such as an external hard drive or cloud storage.
8.Review your privacy settings: Review the privacy settings on your social media accounts to ensure that your personal information is not visible to the public. Consider limiting who can see your posts and photos and adjust your settings to prevent your accounts from being hacked.
9.Designate legacy contacts on your cell phones: If you have an iPhone, you can also go directly to your settings on your iPhone and designate a legacy contact under Passwords & Security. This can allow them the ability to retrieve photos, files, apps, etc without requiring your Apple ID. You can also name legacy contacts if you have an Android phone.
10.Bitcoin: If you own any Bitcoin or other digital currencies, it is essential that the keys for your digital wallets are accessible, otherwise these assets could be lost forever.
As almost everything in our world becomes more and more online, we should take steps to account for our digital lives now and for when we are gone. It is not only good practice for ourselves to get the online side of our lives in order, but will make the lives of those you leave behind much easier as well.