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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Your Digital Afterlife

We have the ability to access and track finances, purchase items, store digital assets such as books and music in the cloud to save room on our devices and stay in touch with friends and family who may live across the globe, all without leaving the house.  It’s great to have this convenience.

Convenient, and if done right, very secure. If you have online accounts, especially ones that store sensitive personal data about you and your family or medical and financial information, you want to make very sure that information is kept private.  You also want it to be kept in a place where viruses and hackers can't get to it. If you're diligent about ensuring you have strong passwords on those accounts, don’t use that same password on all accounts, don’t keep info on devices that run other unsecured Apps, have the right privacy settings in place, and use only trusted services, then your information is safer there than any other place.

What happens if the unexpected happens?  

What if you were to die suddenly or were otherwise incapacitated?  Would your spouse, parents, children, lawyer or other trusted representative know what you have online?   Would they know what accounts you’ve opened and how to contact those businesses? Would they know what financial obligations or assets you have?  What about your social media sites and email?  I personally have friends who have died but every year I'm notified of their birthdays or see that they have liked something recently.  How does that happen?

As painful as a digital afterlife can be for your loved ones, forgetting about digital assets can actually cost your family money.  I know this isn't a pleasant topic.  But it is definitely one we all need to be aware of in our online world.  People die but the information and assets that they leave behind on the internet do not.  Not only do we need to think about the physical property that we will leave to our loved ones,  we also need to track and let our family know about our online assets. 

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, State treasurers hold around $32.9 billion in unclaimed bank accounts and other assets.  Much of this is due to the fact that people die and leave those accounts open because no one knows about them or doesn't have the right access to close them or get the funds out.

Scientific American did an article on this around the social media and email aspects. They outline some pretty good things to think about.

In our own article called Digital Assets:Keeping Track (found on our checklist and articles page), we talk about the legal uncertainty of ownership rights of digital assets like music and books.  You might find that article helpful.  We have more coming on that topic soon.

So what should you do?

Make a plan.  If you have an estate planner or lawyer, talk to them about including all of your digital assets in your estate.  Otherwise, make your own plan.  Write down all of the online accounts you have to include web address, account numbers, logins and passwords.  That info should then be kept in an extremely secure place, like SafelyFiled, with access granted to someone(s) that you fully trust.  Add a reminder to that document to remind yourself to update it periodically to ensure you have the latest information correctly listed.  Download our free checklist called "Managing your digital legacy".  It provides an editable checklist where you can input all of your information in one place for secure storage and sharing with those who you want to take care of your digital legacy.

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