In today’s digital age, where our lives are increasingly intertwined with the online world, it’s crucial to consider not only your physical assets but also your digital assets in your estate planning. Digital estate planning encompasses the management and distribution of your digital life, including social media accounts, online accounts, and various digital assets. Failing to address these aspects can lead to complications for your loved ones after you’re gone. In this article, we’ll explore the key components of digital estate planning to ensure a smooth transition for your online presence and assets.

Take inventory of your digital assets

Whether you’re tech-savvy or not, the chances are that you do have some form of digital assets. A digital asset is any form of content, in any format, that is stored digitally. This also includes login details to online accounts and platforms. The first step in digital estate planning is to create an inventory of all your digital assets. These may include:

  • Social Media Accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Online Accounts: Email, banking, shopping, and subscription services.
  • Cloud Storage: Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.
  • Cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other digital currencies.
  • Websites and Blogs: If you own and manage websites or blogs.
  • Digital Files: Photos, videos, documents, and any other digital content.
  • Make a list of all the relevant accounts and assets, along with their login credentials and any important instructions.

Designate a digital executor

Just as you appoint an executor for your physical estate, it’s essential to designate a digital executor who will handle your digital affairs. This person should be someone you trust, and they should be familiar with technology and comfortable with managing online accounts. Be sure to inform your chosen digital executor about their role and responsibilities. You should also discuss this with your beneficiaries as well so that they are aware of the digital assets you have listed in your will.

When listing your digital assets, make sure that you do not disclose any sensitive information in your actual will. Your will becomes accessible to the general public when it is registered with the Master of the High Court after your death. Do not mention any usernames or passwords in your will. This should only be made available to the digital executor following your death.

Secure important documents

Compile a list of important documents related to your digital assets and store them in a secure location, such as a digital safe or a physical document safe. A digital safe, also known as a digital vault or online safe, is a secure digital storage system or service designed to protect and store sensitive and important electronic information and documents. It provides a means for individuals and organisations to safeguard their digital assets, such as passwords, documents, financial records, and other confidential data, from unauthorised access, loss, or theft. These documents should include:

  • A list of all your digital accounts and their login credentials.
  • Instructions on how to access your devices, such as smartphones, computers, and tablets.
  • Details about your digital executor and their contact information.
  • Any specific wishes you have regarding the management or deletion of certain digital assets?

Understand platform policies

Different online platforms have varying policies when it comes to what happens to your account after your passing. Some platforms allow for the memorialisation of accounts, while others may require specific procedures to grant access to a designated person. It’s essential to understand these policies and account for them in your digital estate plan. Some subscription services may have Terms and Conditions that state the licence may not be transferable after your death. For example, if you use Apple iCloud, you agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or content within your Account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your Account may be terminated and all content within your Account deleted.

For this reason, Apple encourages you to activate your Digital Legacy. With Digital Legacy, you can choose to add one or more contacts to access and download certain data in your account after your death.  If your designated contacts provide proof of death to Apple and have the required key, they will automatically obtain access to that certain account data, and the activation lock will be removed from all your devices.  Thus, it is your responsibility to keep your Digital Legacy contacts current. 

Provide clear instructions

To avoid confusion and ensure your wishes are carried out, provide clear and detailed instructions for your digital executor. Specify what should happen to each account or digital asset. For example:

  • Do you want your social media accounts to be memorialised or deleted?
  • Should your email accounts be accessed to retrieve important information or messages?
  • How should your cryptocurrency holdings be transferred or liquidated?

Consider adding timelines for each important platform. For example, if you pay monthly for cloud storage, which has all your precious memories like children’s and grandchildren’s photos, then you should prioritise access to that before your social media.

If you have financial assets such as foreign currencies in global accounts or cryptocurrencies, then this might require a more complex approach because of taxes and might want to be tended too immediately after your death.

Keep your plan up-to-date

Creating a digital estate plan is a crucial step, but it’s equally important to recognise that your digital life is dynamic and constantly evolving. As such, maintaining and updating your digital estate plan over time is essential to ensure that it accurately reflects your wishes and accounts for any changes that may occur. Regularly review and update your digital estate plan to account for changes in your online presence, new accounts, or changes in your wishes. Your digital estate plan should evolve with your digital life.

Consult with legal professionals

Consulting with an attorney specialising in estate planning can be beneficial when creating your digital estate plan. At Pagel Schulenburg, we can ensure that your plan complies with local laws and is legally sound.

In conclusion, digital estate planning is an essential aspect of modern estate planning that often gets overlooked. By taking the time to account for your digital assets, designating a digital executor, and providing clear instructions, you can ensure that your online presence and assets are handled according to your wishes after you’re gone. Don’t leave your digital legacy to chance; plan ahead to secure it for your loved ones.