NOTE: Looking for information on transitioning social media accounts? Click here for our guide to Digital Afterlife planning.
The average person under 70 has more than 160 online accounts. The prospect of wading through online passwords and navigating account settings pages for social media profiles may seem overwhelming and tedious.
But doing so sooner rather than later will bring you so much peace of mind. It’s also a gift to your loved ones — saving them from the time and anxiety of hunting down accounts and passwords critical to managing your estate while also grieving your loss.
Our Digital Estate Planning guide will safeguard your digital legacy and ensure your information is secure and managed following your death. As with the rest of your Life File, you can complete these steps in more than one sitting.
Let’s get started. Safeguarding your digital legacy has three steps:
- Make a list of your digital assets and how to access them
- Make decisions about your digital assets
- Name a digital executor
Step 1: Make a list of your digital assets and how to access them
First, you’ll need to assemble a comprehensive list of all of your digital assets. You should include all of your online accounts and hardware, and how to access them.
The most secure method of compiling this list is to use a password management tool like LastPass or 1Password. You can also look into a digital vault like DGLegacy as a place to keep your passwords and other important documents online and safe from hackers.
A password-protected spreadsheet or a handwritten document are also options so long as they can be properly secured. And you’ll want to have backups in case the spreadsheet becomes corrupted, lost, or deleted; or your handwritten document destroyed.
Two-Step Verification for Online Accounts
Many online accounts now require two-step verification (also known as two-factor authentication), i.e. they send you an email or SMS text message with a one-time password to verify it is really you who is attempting to log in to the account. Make sure to note whether the account is secured and by what method.
Types of Online Accounts
We don’t expect you to remember hundreds of accounts off the top of your head! You can refer to the following categories of accounts to help create a comprehensive list of your digital assets:
- Banking and Brokerage Accounts (checking/savings bank accounts, credit card accounts, digital wallets, PayPal, Venmo, retirement accounts, etc.)
- Digital Asset accounts (cryptocurrencies, NFTs, etc.)
- Health Accounts (insurance, electronic medical records, doctor or dentist patient portals, etc.)
- Fitness Accounts (Gym, Peloton, Strava, etc.)
- Food Accounts (DoorDash, GrubHub, Instacart, etc.)
- Gambling (Draft Kings, Fan Duel, etc.)
- Home Accounts (mortgage or rent, mortgage or rental insurance, water/sewer, garbage, power, gas, internet, cable/satellite, homeowners insurance, etc.)
- Email Accounts (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc.)
- Social Media Accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit, etc.)
- Blogs & News (Substack, tumblr, RSS, subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, etc.)
- Photos (Flickr, Shutterstock, etc.)
- Videos (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.)
- Music (Bandcamp, Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, etc.)
- Retail (Amazon, Target, eBay, Walmart, Costco, BJ’s, etc.)
- School (Student portals for yourself or your children, student loans, etc)
- Travel (Uber, Lyft, Avis, Yelp, Tripadvisor, Kayak, etc).
- Data Storage (iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, DocuSign, etc.)
- Streaming Video (Netflix, Hulu, etc.)
- Loyalty Programs (Airline, hotel, etc.)
- Video games (Microsoft/XBox, Playstation, Twitch, etc.)
Types of Hardware
Your list of devices may include the following common categories:
Step 2: Make decisions about your digital assets
You will need to make decisions about what should happen to each of the assets listed above after your death.
Accounts involving the purchase of products or services should simply include instructions for closing or discontinuing the accounts (e.g., accounts related to your home, subscriptions, streaming, etc.). Your fiduciary may need to pay any outstanding balances on this type of account.
For the hardware you own and use to access your digital assets, the decision is as simple as for any other tangible property: Who should inherit what device?
Matters get a little trickier with the intangibles.
Digital assets with monetary value (e.g., bank accounts, PayPal accounts, digital wallets, cryptocurrencies, loyalty programs, or credit card points) should be included in your will and estate plan. Other digital assets may not be transferable through your will (e.g., your documents, videos, photos, music, etc.), but you can still leave instructions on how you’d like them to be dealt with.
Many of your online accounts that will remain active after your death are also linked to your personal identity, and may require specific instructions for access and termination. We’ve created a guide to Digital Afterlife Planning to highlight common issues with end-of-life planning and social media platforms.
Step 3: Name a digital executor
The final step is to name a trusted person to carry out these wishes.
Since 2015, 47 states have adopted a version of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, legislation that recognizes digital property as property that can be managed in the same way physical property can, and includes provisions for how your fiduciary (representative of your estate/executor, a conservator/guardian, agent/attorney-in-fact, or trustee) can access your digital assets.
Designating your fiduciary (executor or agent) as the person who can access and manage your digital assets entails making a provision in your will or power of attorney. You can learn more about the different types of power of attorney, and how to declare them, here.