Your Digital Will
It's a fact that our legal system often plays "catch-up" with changes in society. Laws written to protect tangible assets like letters and correspondence, photos, and documents don't always apply when those assets are stored or transformed digitally. This is especially so if you abandon those digital assets, either through disuse or death.
Recent headlines tell the tale of a young, well-known author found dead in her rented cabin by the landlord. Her most recent works were stored on her computer and backed up in online "cloud" storage. Only two people knew her password - one of them was now dead, and the other was Google.
In a recent survey conducted by an affiliate of the Wall Street Journal, "over 70% of Americans say their private online communications and photos should remain private after they die". But privacy could mean different things to different people. What about family photos? Critical documents? Access to online banking and investment accounts?
That's why it's important to take steps to clarify what your intentions are regarding your digital assets by creating a "digital will". Four key steps are:
- Make sure your executor is trust-worthy, tech-savvy, and knows your wishes
- Disclose in your formal documents (will, estate plan) how you want your accounts handled (deleted, memorialized, etc.)
- Know the privacy policies of the sites you use, and set up your defaults accordingly
- Supply your executor with a list of the websites and log-in credentials you want them to have. There are services that will help you manage and share this information.