When we think about what we leave behind when we die, the majority of us take an approach that gives little regard to the vast amount of digital assets we hold.
We write wills, take out life insurance policies, plan our funerals and arrange to leave some money aside for those we care about. All of these steps make things easier for your family at an emotionally difficult time.
However, most of us neglect our digital legacy. Few of us have measures in place to take care of our digital assets, something that has the potential to cause great problems for our friends, family and colleagues.
It used to be that people’s estates could be settled in a standardised way: a search through the deceased’s filing cabinet would yield most of the information necessary to put their financial affairs in order. Their letters would still arrive through the door, allowing their family to take care of their communications after death and, where appropriate, advise their contacts of their passing.
Alas, nowadays much of our financial life takes place online – with traditional paper bank statements fading into oblivion, it can be difficult for an executor to know what accounts you hold and where to find them.
What’s more, unless you inform someone of your passwords, your email and social media accounts will become inaccessible and any information on them will be lost. Inaccessible social media accounts mean that the deceased’s family are unable to close the account or inform friends of their relative’s passing.
If we do not plan for our death we can cause our family a logistical nightmare which, on top of the emotional stress of bereavement, may be overwhelming.
That said, there are important steps you can take to help your family wind up your digital affairs smoothly.
Keep an inventory with a close friend or relative that includes the location of any digital devices you own, in addition to your USB drives and external hard drives. This should also contain a list of all your social, personal, financial and business account details, including usernames, passwords and security question answers.
Finally, some of your online accounts have features in place for the account holder’s death. Google, for instance, gives you the option to set up an “Inactive Account Manager”, a trusted contact with access to certain aspects of the account, such as Gmail or Google Drive. Features such as these give a trusted person a level of control over your digital afterlife and can lessen your loved ones’ distress at a crucial time.