Here’s a how-to guide on digital estate planning

Protecting your digital assets—from social media accounts to other subscriptions.

Most of us spend a lot of time online, whether it’s on a social media platform, sending emails or even using cryptocurrency. But have you ever thought about what happens to all your digital assets after you pass away? Social media accounts might not be something you think about when someone dies. Why would posting cute cat videos or sending an email to a friend be relevant at this moment? But it is an essential part of protecting yourself against fraud or identity theft, as well as preserving your memory for your family and friends. We compiled some information to help you navigate the information age.

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What is digital estate planning?

Digital estate planning is protecting your online presence and personal information as well as giving control to a designated beneficiary. Since much of our information is online, on the cloud, or whatever digital void it’s stored on, it could make it vulnerable for hackers to find your information and use it for fraud or identity theft. Every year the identity of 2.5 million deceased people are stolen. Their information is used to open bank accounts, credit cards, get cellphones and other services.

Even a seemingly sweet or sentimental social media account could be subject to fraud, especially if the terms of service prohibit access which provides a roadblock to shut down or take control of the account.

Creating a checklist for your digital assets

Federal laws and terms of service can put a stop to someone accessing your personal platforms, but it’s really up to you to take the steps and figure out how you can designate this access. Make sure you take inventory of what accounts you want either deleted or controlled by a beneficiary that you can add to your will or life insurance plan. You can also use a service like LastPass which allows your information to be stored in their vault where your designated Emergency Access contact has the ability to locate all of it.

1. Take a digital asset inventory

Take stock of your online presence, from your social media accounts, subscriptions and online banking info.

2. Appoint a digital executor

This is the person you assign responsibility to access files from your online life. They can do anything from deleting social media accounts, canceling subscriptions and credit cards, archiving photos and preserving your memory online.

3. Create your plan

Now that you have a designated executor, they can start the process of closing or accessing social media accounts, subscription services, and cryptocurrency.

Digital estate planning allows you to decide what happens to your social media accounts after you die.

Facebook allows a deceased person’s account to be turned into a memorial, or it can be shut down permanently. There is also the option to appoint a legacy contact who is able to make certain changes and updates to your account. They can also remove it altogether. Although, they can’t log into your account, view messages or make friend requests.

Instagram also has the option of having a person’s account turned into a memorial or have a family member request the account be deleted. However, they do require proof of death.

The only option Twitter allows is to have the person’s account deactivated, which can be done if a loved one presents a death certificate and a copy of the deceased ones ID. 

Gmail will work with a loved one’s family member to have their account closed and, in certain circumstances, will provide content to the person you appointed as your gatekeeper.

Amazon requires direct contact with them in order to close an account, but you do need a username and password.

Netflix requires either you have the username and password, or you can contact them directly to shut down the account.

iTunes, and Apple at large, has no automated system in place to modify or close an account, but you can contact customer support and provide proof of death.

Cryptocurrency like Bitcoin has more complex rules, but you can set up a beneficiary that can handle your digital funds if they provide certain legal documents.

Conclusion

A lot of thought and thorough research goes into having a solid digital estate plan. The digital executor you appoint has to be someone you trust with all your information. You also have to make sure this person has legal rights, so adding them to a will or life insurance plan should be considered. Also, there is legislation in place that will allow you to transfer your online account info to the beneficiary of your choosing. The Uniform Law Commission is a nonpartisan organization that has proposed laws across all 50 states to have one uniform way of accessing online information. 

At the end of the day, your family wants to keep your memory alive after someone passes and have peace of mind that plans were set in stone prior to your death. Until then, it’s up to you to make sure you understand what goes into planning for the end of your life, even if it’s just the cute cat videos always being part of your legacy.

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