How-to Manage Digital Assets

End of Life Management Toolkit #10 | by Team Passare and Evan Carroll

5. How-to Create Your Digital Estate

Like preserving anything of value, good organization, identification, secure storage, and planning are the keys to creating your digital estate and securing your digital legacy. You can then make informed decisions about your final wishes for your specific digital assets.

To organize your digital assets, follow the steps in this section for each of your digital asset types, including:

  • Computers and devices that contain personal content, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones
  • Email: content from incoming, stored, and sent messages
  • Content from social network channels like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others
  • Online businesses including accounts from online stores, blogs, and websites, including PayPal, eBay and Etsy
  • Multimedia content from Shutterfly, Snapfish, Flickr, Instagram, and other digital memento-sharing sites

Important Note: Providing computer and mobile device access to your digital executor or heir – including physical location, usernames, and passwords - is essential to your digital asset estate planning.

Step One: Identify and Inventory Your Assets

You likely access your digital assets using a variety of desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. These devices serve as master keys to your email, social presence, business, and financial accounts. As you create your digital estate, identify your devices and the content on those devices first.

Begin by making a thorough inventory of your computers, mobile devices, email, social websites, and other important online accounts. List the physical location of each, and provide the name of your intended heir, username and password access, and your final wishes for each asset. For a template to help inventory your assets, go to:

Consider both personal devices and Internet accounts:

Until recently, most of your personal content was likely stored on your home and/or work devices. Today, more data is stored on the Internet in the cloud. This shift to cloud-based storage services makes locating digital content more challenging if there is no clear inventory to guide your executor or heirs. So list all digital content accounts and sources in your inventory. Allowing access to your personal devices remains essential, since they may contain important files that do not exist anywhere else.

Consider both devices and files:

Devices and the digital files on them are two separate things. The files on a single device are part of your digital estate and can be shared with many people. This means that you can separately consider the future owner of the device and the files stored there.

Communicate and provide access to your heirs:

When making your inventory, record to whom you will give your specific digital assets. Your digital executor and/or heir will manage your digital assets and ensure that your final wishes are carried out. In the simplest situation, you have only one heir who is also your digital executor. Be sure to clearly communicate your wishes for your devices and digital content to your digital executor and heirs, so they know it exists and where. Provide access – including the physical location, usernames, and passwords – to all computers and mobile devices.

Important Note: Access to data and preservation are different concepts. Even if your heirs have access to your digital content after you pass away, this does not ensure that it will be preserved in the future.

Keep personal files off your business computer:

We recommend that you keep personal files on your personal devices, not on your business computer. Although your employer may allow you to keep personal content on your work device, they may deny your digital executor access to it after your death. Or, they may simply erase the content to prepare the device for another employee.

Step Two: Archive Your Content

It is essential to back up your computer and all personal devices to properly safeguard your data. Keeping your digital content in more than one place helps keep it safe.

Storing digital content online can prevent a complete data loss if your hard drive fails, your computer is stolen, or your home destroyed. You can easily automate the backup process to occur regularly and automatically. Back up methods for hard drives and personal devices include using the following:

  • Digital estate planning services; for example, allows you to store both your data, and a sample of your DNA, indefinitely.

Important Note: Providing computer and mobile device access to your digital executor or heir – including physical location, usernames, and passwords - is essential to your digital asset estate planning. For a template to help inventory your assets, including any backup drives or services, go to:

Step Three: Document Your Final Digital Asset Wishes

The next step in creating your digital estate plan is to decide what instructions you want your digital executor and/or heirs to follow for your specific digital assets. Common choices include:

  • Archiving – you may choose to have your digital executor or heir create a copy of all, or some of your content, using CD, DVD, USB drive, or external hard drive(s). Keeping multiple copies of digital content helps keep it safe.
  • Sharing – you may choose to provide access to more than one person or group. You can store portions of your data on the Internet, or on separate media, which can then be distributed according to your final wishes.
  • Deleting – you may choose to delete either a portion, or your entire digital content, from all or some of your computers, devices, or cloud-based accounts. Be specific about what you wish to have deleted.
  • Doing nothing – you may choose to do nothing and let your digital executor or heir decide what to do with your digital content after your death.
Step Four: Choose How Your Wishes will be Carried Out

Finally, you should choose a way to ensure that your final digital asset wishes will be carried out in the event that you pass way. You can select from the following choices:

  • Document your final digital asset wishes in your Will, or as an addendum to your Will or Living Trust.
  • Use digital estate planning services to manage your final instructions.
  • Communicate your final wishes to your loved ones, like your spouse, children, or other loved ones.
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