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7 Steps to Protect Your Digital Assets After Death

This is part of Cake's collection of Estate planning Legal/financial articles. Create a Cake profile for free to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

Legal editor, attorney

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Trivia question: What’s the key to everything we find valuable these days? 

Did you guess digital accounts? Think about it — digital assets, which are valuables that exist online rather than in tangible form — host online banking and investment platforms, photo-sharing sites, social media accounts, messaging applications, and more. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

  1. Take Care of Personal Online Bills
  2. Protect Your Social Media Accounts
  3. Back Up Your Personal Digital Files
  4. Figure Out Your Financial Accounts
  5. Review All Business Accounts, Files, and Domains
  6. Consider a “Digital Executor” and Digital Assets in Your Will
  7. Complete a Digital Estate Planning Spreadsheet

It’s important to have a plan for digital assets after death. You can even do digital estate planning now — though the law is currently muddy in many states. Here’s how to be sure your loved ones have access to your digital assets — and you have access to your loved ones’ as well. 

1. Take Care of Personal Online Bills

Here’s a thought-provoking question: What happens to past-due bills or utilities when a credit card is canceled? 

You don’t want to find out, so keep a consolidated list of bills and subscriptions so a loved one can use the list to cancel services that aren’t needed and shut down future billing. It can be costly and time-consuming to figure out what needs to be canceled if you don’t put together a list.

2. Protect Your Social Media Accounts

You won’t want to allow social media accounts to sit unused after death because hackers can gain access to them. Make a conscious decision about what you’d want to happen with your social media accounts when you die. 

Would you prefer that they become pages of remembrance, which can happen on sites like Facebook? Would you prefer someone to be in charge of deactivating online accounts after your death? Make a choice and gather the information you need. Entrust a friend with the task of closing down or monitoring accounts. 

Keep in mind that long-term monitoring is time consuming and could become a burden. Be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and create a way to make it a positive experience for them.

3. Back Up Your Personal Digital Files

Website account details for personal digital files could easily be lost when you pass away. Use a backup service online or create a hard drive backup of your personal digital files. 

It's one of the best ways to keep sentimental and personal items that matter to your family. For example, you might keep your photos on a central backup site or hard drive for your loved ones to cherish.

A company that hosts digital assets may shut down without giving you time to remove your correspondence, photographs, videos, and important documents, so it’s a good idea to duplicate these items. It’s one of the best ways to guarantee access to them when you (or your family) need them. 

Let’s say you choose to leave a social network. Do you want to download your posts, photos, or interactions on that site first? Many popular sites have an option to make a local copy of your networking messages and posts. You can save them on a personal computer or backup hard drive.

4. Figure Out Your Financial Accounts

Bank accounts and investment accounts aren’t as easy to access as you might expect. Don't assume that having a password is good enough. Make sure you have passwords, security question answers, and personal details — you might need them. Make sure that your digital financial assets are aligned with instructions in your will. 

Your loved ones could encounter complications if your online financial account lists a beneficiary other than a beneficiary in your will. Handling your estate is easier if all beneficiaries listed are consistently on everything. Be sure to update your will or beneficiaries whenever you experience a life change.

5. Review All Business Accounts, Files, and Domains

You may have a variety of other digital assets that you want to divide when you die, particularly if you’re a business owner. For example, you may want to make sure your partner or the person who will continue your business will have access to business checking and savings accounts. 

They’ll also need access to your digital branding, website hosting service, and any other digital assets that go with the business. Consider pulling together an online folder on a secure website that contains this information. 

This step is especially important if you have employees whose work lives could be interrupted. Your employees' lives would be on hold if the line of succession in the business isn’t clear. Share your plans for how the business will live on after your death. Keep everything accessible so you can change it as needed over time.

6. Consider a “Digital Executor” and Digital Assets in Your Will

You can now include your digital assets in a will — and state laws continue to evolve to keep up with the changing methods of storing property and value. A new law called the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) has been adopted in various forms in various states. 

The goal is to be able to give your fiduciary — a financial representative who has your best interests in mind — access to your digital assets so they will be transferred to your family or friends.

Various states recognize digital executors separate from the regular executor. A digital executor can help those who need to access your digital assets after your death. 

Check to see if your state has either a RUFADAA law or a digital executor option.

7. Complete a Digital Estate Planning Spreadsheet

Store everything in a secure place so that your future estate administrator has access to it. Consolidate the domains, passwords (or use a password manager), and everything in each digital asset In a single spreadsheet. 

This information allows your trusted loved ones to access digital assets and complete your wishes. This spreadsheet can be a guide so they know they’re creating the digital legacy you want.

Anyone who has had to update a password every 90 days knows that digital assets don’t keep the same domains, passwords, or inventory forever. Maintain this spreadsheet by scheduling a day once per quarter to update your information about each domain and add any new ones you’ve acquired. It might be a major task to create the spreadsheet, but it’ll only take a couple of minutes to update it a few times a year.

Wisely Prepare Your Digital Assets 

Creating lists and sharing the information about your digital assets is important, but be sure that digital assets have a home on your estate planning checklist. This list doesn't need to go into your will since that document becomes public after your death. Instead, share where your friends or family members can find the information you would want them to have.

Also, consider whether there are ways you can simplify your digital assets now. Are there subscriptions or email lists that you don’t want anymore? Go ahead and close those accounts — this way, your digital life will be less cluttered.

Your financial planner or estate attorney may have some very valuable insight into the specific laws about digital assets in your state — they change all the time.

Disclaimer: The information posted on this site is provided solely for informational and educational purposes and is not legal advice or tax advice. Contact an appropriate professional licensed in your jurisdiction for advice specific to your legal or tax situation.