Have you ever thought about what will happen to your Facebook account when you die? Or what about your online bank account or your family photos stored in your Shutterfly account? If you stop and think of all the places your digital life takes you and how much important and often very private information is stored in the digital world, you might just get a little afraid. God forbid, but if you were hit by a bus tomorrow, would your family know how to access your digital data to shut it down, withdraw the money or even get into your phone?
At a recent National Association of Professional Organizer’s conference I attended a fabulous seminar by the esteemed organizer and forward thinker Judith Kolberg of FileHeads on creating a digital estate plan. She likens our digital life to a spiderweb of invisible transactions, all interconnected and all a bit mysterious but all very important.
The Facts Are Scary
One statistic Kolberg shared is every day 10,000 people are wished happy birthday (or friend requested or tagged in a photo) on Facebook. The scary part is that those 10,000 people are dead but their families can’t take down their Facebook page. Did you know that this is also a big opportunity for identity theft? Every year 15 million social media identities are stolen or hacked and of those 2.5 million accounts belong to dead people.
Another scary thought is that less than 40% of us have wills (hello, Prince anyone?). Even if we are part of the 60% that is will-less, in general we’ve at least thought about what will happen to our physical possessions and money when we die. But what about your digital resources including but not limited to your financial accounts, your social media accounts, your personal digital assets (email, photos, website domain, blog, genealogy records) and other various digital data (laptop password, cell phone pin, password manager login).
Why Make a Digital Estate Plan
The number one thing Judith Kolberg recommends you do to help your family after you’ve gone (besides creating an actual will – just do it. It’s not that hard.) is to create a digital estate plan. Not only does a digital estate plan keep track of your various accounts, account numbers, user names and passwords, it is also an opportunity tell your family what you want to happen to each account after you are gone. Perhaps you’d like to have your Facebook page turned into a memorial page for 3 months then deleted permanently. Maybe your what your personal checking account to be closed out and the money distributed per the instructions in your will (because you have one of those, right?).
Another benefit of having digital estate plan is that it creates a “paper” trail of sorts for those accounts (think Twitter and your online-only bank) that otherwise have no tangible statements or records. It also centralizes all of your information into one place for which your heirs will thank you.Create a digital estate plan to protect your digital assets after you are gone. #organize Click To Tweet
Create Your Own Digital Estate Plan
How you create this digital estate plan is up to you. Kolberg suggests creating a password protected spreadsheet with the following information for each and every account:
- Name of account (Wells Fargo – personal checking, Paypal)
- Account Number
- User name
- Security question and answer
- Current Activity (ex. cell phone bill is automatically drafted from this account on the 15th of the month)
- Notes (what to do with the account after you are gone)
It will probably take you a while to accumulate all of this data and it will need to be updated on occasion, say 1-2 times a year. Once you do, save your password protected document on a USB drive and physically hand it to the person you would like to be your digital estate manager (this does not need to be the executor of your estate) and give them the password. Do not email it to them. It’s too easy for it to accidentally get forwarded, erased or hacked through email. It is also very helpful to print out a hard copy and attach it to your will (because you have one, right?).
When your time comes, one of the best gifts you can leave your loved ones is an organized estate, both physical anddigital. Taking the time to deal with this now will allow your family and friends to concentrate on what is really important…celebrating you and your life.
Of course if you want help with this process you can contact a professional organizer (like me!) near you to help. Find an organizer near you..
For more detailed information, you should grab a copy of Judith Kolberg’s Creating Your Digital Estate Plan. Please keep in mind that these remarks are merely suggestions. It is advisable that you review your digital estate plan with your financial and law professionals who are involved in the dissipation of your entire estate.
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