As with preserving and protecting tangible property, you can state your preferences for your specific digital assets in your Will or in an addendum to your current Will or Estate Plan. Then, choose a digital executor or heirs to carry out your final wishes.
Important Note: Providing computer and mobile device access to your digital executor or heir – including physical location, usernames, and passwords - is essential to protecting your digital asset estate.
State Your Final Digital Asset Wishes in Your Will
When stating your final digital asset wishes in your Will or Estate Plan, do the following:
- Be specific about your intentions for your all of your devices, online accounts, and personal files.
- Choose and name a digital executor and/or heir who will manage all of your digital assets.
- Communicate to your digital executor(s) and heir(s) the physical location, username and passwords, and the permission to control your digital assets - including devices, files, and online accounts.
- Understand the current laws for managing digital assets in your state. Laws vary by state, and are evolving quickly to keep pace with technology.
- Review “Terms of Service” policies for all of the online accounts and applications you use.
- Never put usernames and passwords in a Will or Estate Plan.
- Think of access to a computer or email account as a “master key” that may provide access to other accounts.
- Consider both the emotional and financial value of your digital assets; consider what may be valuable to your heirs, not just what’ s valuable to you.
- Remember that financial value may be hidden in many different places like online games, virtual currency, PayPal accounts, and etc.
Choose a Digital Executor
Both physical and digital assets need to be curated and cared for over time. Both types remind us of our loved ones and help us preserve their memory. However, without a conscientious curator to protect them, both physical and digital objects would quickly vanish.
The person you choose to be the legal executor of your estate may not have the technical understanding to protect your digital assets. Your digital executor will be a person or online service that you choose to act on your behalf relative to your digital assets after you are gone, and should be able to understand and manage the technical aspects of associated with them. They will also distribute or delete your digital assets according to your wishes.
If your legal executor is capable, consider making that person your digital executor as well. Or, if you choose to name a separate digital executor in your Will, consider adding instructions to direct your legal executor to obtain the help of your digital executor when managing your specific digital assets.
Important Note: The legal executor defined in your Will is the only person with legal authority to settle your physical estate.
Choose Your Heirs
You may choose one or more heirs to whom you will leave your assets. Your heirs are the people who will receive your assets after you pass away. Without your help, they may not even know about your digital content. If you have a simple estate, appoint one person, like a spouse or other family member, to be your legal executor, digital executor, and sole heir.
Common choices for whom to choose as your digital executor or heir include:
- Spouse or children
- Groups of people, like your parents, close family, or friends
- Everyone – leaving access to your digital content online for anyone to access
- No one – you may choose not to leave your digital content to anyone
It is important to understand that some content on your device(s) may not be transferable to your heirs. Digital Rights Managed (DRM) music is an example of nontransferable content. You bought the rights to listen to the music, not the music itself.
Edit Your Data Collection
When you consider leaving behind your digital legacy, consider that your digital content may be a burden to your heirs in that it may simply be too voluminous to be uniquely valuable. For example, if you leave behind 10,000 photographs, they will have less value to your heirs. Edit, tag your favorites, delete duplicates, and keep the important content separate from the vast collection.