In the pre-internet day, death was a relatively simple affair. The belongings of the deceased would be sorted through, boxed up, and divided among family and friends to act as a tangible reminder of a life. A Will, often called a “Last Will and Testament”, is a legal document that allows a person to give instructions on what to do with their possessions once they pass away. It is also used so that people can declare a legal guardian for their children in the event of their death.

However, what happens to your digital assets and online presence when the inevitable happens?

Suddenly finding all the accounts and passwords for business and personal accounts becomes a real challenge.

A digital Will allows you to manage the fate of your online presence and assets in one document, without having to make arrangements with each site individually as not all sites allow you to do this. Your website names, website addresses, usernames, passwords, and any other relevant information like security questions and answers will be stored in one place ensuring your family have everything they need when the time comes.

Do I need a digital Will?

We all arguably need a digital Will. Nowadays, so many of us manage our lives online with innumerable online accounts, that soon we will all need digital Wills. There’s so much that we do and store online. Check out the list below and see how many apply to you.

  • PIN or passwords for your computer, tablets and smartphones
  • Voicemail passwords
  • Bank PINs and account numbers
  • Loyalty cards, membership numbers, and gift cards
  • Medical IDs and insurance numbers
  • Wi-Fi passcodes
  • Social Media; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc
  • Web based photo libraries
  • Shopping/payment accounts such as eBay, PayPal, Amazon
  • Recurring subscriptions and payment cards they’re charged to
  • Copyrighted materials, trademarks, etc
  • Information or data that is stored electronically, whether stored online, in the cloud, or on a physical device

The list goes on. Many people do not make plans for their digital presence or digital assets which means their loved ones will struggle to make sense of it all.

In some situations they will need to save, transfer, cancel or close accounts, and even though you may not care about some accounts, it may mean a lot to them to be able to access information such as online photo storage.

The smarter the technology, the harder it becomes for someone else to access our details – which is security needed whilst we are here! How do we pass this onto someone else?

How can I make a digital Will?

Arranging a digital Will is essential. It may take a little while to prepare but once it’s set up it will be easy to manage and maintain moving forward.

Make a list of your digital assets, including everything from hardware to social media accounts to online banking accounts to home utilities that you manage online.

If you use a password manager program, you can simply share your access information to that account. If not, it's important that you record the login and password information for key accounts.

If you have computing hardware, such as computers, external hard drives or flash drives, tablets, smartphones, digital music players, e-readers, digital cameras, etc., you'll want to record where those items are located, as well as any passwords that are required to access those devices.

Do not include your passwords or other digital asset access information in your Last Will and Testament. The reason being, your will becomes a public document once you’ve passed away meaning anyone can read the sensitive information it may contain. In your will simply refer to an outside document which contains all the necessary information needed to settle your digital estate.

Name A Digital Executor

Who do you trust to carry out your wishes for your digital assets?

Basically, your Digital Executor is someone you designate to help settle your digital estate, and it could be the same Executor/s of your Last Will and Testament.

You need to consider how this person/these people can access your digital assets to be dealt with as you state in your digital Will.

Decide What You Want Done With These Assets

How should each asset be handled?

Depending on the nature of the property, the way you want different types of digital property managed may vary. While you may want some assets to be archived and saved, you may want others to be deleted or erased, while others should be transferred to family members, friends, or business colleagues. For each digital account or asset that you have, specify how you'd like your Digital Executor to handle that asset. While your wishes may conflict with some companies' terms of service, it's still valuable to your Executor to know what your wishes are.

Do any of the assets have monetary value?

If so, you may want to instruct your Executor to handle those assets in a specific way. For example, should revenue-generating assets be transferred to people who will continue to manage the accounts? Should credits or points or cash values be redeemed? Should online stores you manage be immediately shut down, shut down after all items are sold, or transferred to someone who can continue to manage the store? If assets will continue to generate revenue, it's worth thinking about where that money is going, and who will be able to access it after you're gone.

Difficulties to overcome

There are a few obstacles to bear in mind when it comes to digital Wills.

Make sure you include all the information needed and that all passwords are listed – and kept updated (passwords, user names etc.) Without them, online accounts cannot be accessed.

If you have stored all of your data via an application on your smartphone, you should consider how someone can access the smartphone.

Some websites such as Google, Facebook and Instagram provide the ability to activate a digital heir. This allows your trusted contact to carry out your final wishes. Make sure you record in your digital will where you have used these features.

In Google there is an Inactive Account Manager feature that lets you pick up to 10 trusted contacts who will be notified if your account goes inactive and will be given access to your data (with your permission). Facebook and Instagram allow you to select someone so they can memorialize your page.

Be aware, many web services do not offer an automated process for handling accounts after death, so accessibility to your passwords by digital heirs through a digital Will is really important.

Finally

Store this Information in a secure-but-accessible location!

No matter how you decide to store your digital estate plan, you'll want to be sure that the people who need to know where the plan is actually know. It's generally a good idea to tell one or two people who you trust—your spouse, your adult children, or your Digital Executor, for example—where the plan is located and how to access it.

This way, when the time comes, the people who need to access the plan you've made can find the plan and access it.