I was recently speaking with two good friends of mine about what will happen with our legacies when we die. We had the usual banter over who gets what car and where our extensive book collections will go.
In each conversation, the topic of our digital information then came up, and a look of terror came over my friend’s face. One panic-stricken friend and fellow writer said “when I die, throw my whole computer in the river!” I felt that, and I’m willing to bet you did too. The other one said, “when I die, just delete all my files!”
If you haven’t thought about it yet, now is the best time to figure out what will happen with your belongings when you die, commonly called estate planning. During this time, also be sure to take some time to consider what will happen with your digital estate. This includes: usernames and passwords for all of your accounts, data saved to your devices and cloud storage, personal files such as pictures, games and movies you purchased, those drunk texts you definitely did not send after too much tequila on taco Tuesday, and digital copies of your legal documents.
While it sounds easy to just have a trusted friend throw your computer in the river, the fish won’t appreciate that, nor will it solve the problem of protecting your legacy when you are gone.
So what is a digital executor and why do you need one?
A digital executor is someone you have specifically named that will be responsible for handling all digital information after you die, according to your wishes. Some common duties of a digital executor are archiving files, closing accounts, such as subscription services and social media, deleting files, erasing hard drives, using online accounts when bills need paid or services are not ceasing, and informing online friends of your passing.
While in some cases you can specify in your will that your family will handle digital files, in some places it is required that a digital executor be assigned. The duties of the digital executor can be done by the same person chosen as your will executor, the person responsible for handling your entire physical estate. However, you can also choose two separate people as the will executor and digital executor, specifying that they must work together to settle your estate.
The digital executor will get access to your passwords and important online account information when you die, but their access and duties can be limited to whatever accounts and information you feel comfortable with them having. This should be noted in your will.
For next steps, you can consult your attorney for any questions or check out one of several online websites for life planning such as FreeWill and LawDepot. Hopefully, this article gives you peace as you navigate these difficult but important conversations, and no electronics end up at the bottom of the river.