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.
Ken Moraif is the CEO and founder of Retirement Planners of America (RPOA), a Dallas-based wealth management and investment firm with over $3.46 billion in assets under management and serving over 6,500 households in 48 states (as of August 2023).
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