retirement

Leaving Your Digital Legacy

Between Facebook, iTunes, email and digital banking and investment accounts, most of us lead pretty active lives online. Do you have a plan for what will happen to all your passwords and accounts when you pass away?

My mom, who passed away a few years ago, was a very careful and meticulous person who kept a notebook with all of her online account passwords. Mom was also a Morse code operator in the Royal Air Force during WWII, so all of her passwords were in code. I was lucky: She told me about the book and her codes. If she hadn’t, finding and deciphering her notes would have taken a very long time and could have held up important estate and financial planning tasks.

Like my mom, most of us live part of our lives online today. We have email and social media accounts. We purchase digital books and music. We pay our bills and do our banking online. Many virtual items cannot be left to heirs through our wills because we don’t actually own them; we just have licenses to view/read/listen to them. Many online accounts, like email and social media sites, don’t belong to us either. The businesses that administer them control what happens when our contracts are terminated by death.

So, how do we prepare to leave our digital legacies?

List all of your online accounts.

These might include:

  • Email accounts
  • Financial accounts and utilities, including checking or savings accounts, retirement accounts, mortgages, life insurance, gas and electric, phone or cable bills and tax-preparation services
  • Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Music, photos or books stored online
  • Websites, blogs and licensed domain names
  • Seller’s accounts on eBay, Etsy or Amazon
  • Any online communities or listservs where you have been active

Make plans regarding what should happen to those accounts.

Do you want someone special to have access to your iTunes library? To your photos? Do you want certain emails saved and printed, or would you rather have the accounts purged? Would you prefer your social media accounts be deleted or turned into “memorial” accounts when possible? Would you like someone to post a final status update after your death?

Choose a “digital executor.”

Let that person know where you keep your passwords (and if they need to be decoded). Talk to your executor, but also leave detailed instructions on where and how to find passwords, user names, etc. You may be able to leave virtual items you actually own (e.g., photos you took, music you bought) to people in your will, so make sure your executor has all the information needed to access and download them. You may also want to consider “vaulting” your digital goods with a company that puts all of your digital information (including passwords) onto one online platform.

Whatever you decide, do make a decision. Your digital legacy is important. Make sure your heirs can “crack the codes” to access it.

About the Author

Ken Moraif, CFP®

CEO and Senior Adviser, Retirement Planners of America

Ken Moraif, CFP, is CEO and senior adviser at Retirement Planners of America, a Dallas-based wealth management and investment firm with over $4.3 billion in AUM and serving over 8,000 households (as of May 2019). He is also the host of the radio show "Money Matters with Ken Moraif," which has offered listeners retirement, investing and personal finance advice since 1996.

Most Popular

Tax Wrinkles for Work-at-Home Employees During COVID-19
taxes

Tax Wrinkles for Work-at-Home Employees During COVID-19

Are your home office expenses deductible? How does going out of state to work for a while affect your tax picture? There are some interesting wrinkles…
November 9, 2020
Retirement: It All Starts with a Budget
personal finance

Retirement: It All Starts with a Budget

When you’re meeting with your financial planner, do you talk about your budget? If not, you should.
November 10, 2020
Will Joe Biden Raise YOUR Taxes?
taxes

Will Joe Biden Raise YOUR Taxes?

During the campaign, Joe Biden promised that he would raise taxes for some people. Will you be one of them?
November 10, 2020

Recommended

The Best T. Rowe Price Funds for 401(k) Retirement Savers
Kiplinger's Investing Outlook

The Best T. Rowe Price Funds for 401(k) Retirement Savers

A dozen T. Rowe Price mutual funds also have a place among the nation's most popular 401(k) retirement products. Find out which funds belong in your r…
November 27, 2020
The Best Fidelity Funds for 401(k) Retirement Savers
Investing for Income

The Best Fidelity Funds for 401(k) Retirement Savers

Fidelity funds are renowned for their managers' stock-picking prowess. We rate Fidelity's best actively managed funds that are popular in 401(k) plans…
November 27, 2020
The Best Vanguard Funds for 401(k) Retirement Savers
mutual funds

The Best Vanguard Funds for 401(k) Retirement Savers

Vanguard funds account for a third of the 100 most popular 401(k) retirement products. We rank Vanguard's best actively managed funds, including its t…
November 27, 2020
Bad News for Super Savers
Financial Planning

Bad News for Super Savers

Low inflation keeps thresholds on retirement savings plans in check.
November 25, 2020