It used to be that you knew what to do with all the memorabilia of your life. You’d put it in a box to give to your kids, or you’d write it into your will.  But these days, the most complete record of your life may be online.

The Internet plays a major role in most of our lives and we store immense amount of information from our personal and professional lives online including our email accounts, utility bills, insurance policies, social media pages, digital albums, and online bank accounts.  It’s been estimated that this growing personal digital footprint amounts to 88 gigabytes of data per person by the age of 75.  These digital assets are valuable to us both emotionally and financially and these digital assets need to be managed like any other asset and protected after we pass away.

The question of what to do with digital assets has recently developed into a serious concern, as loved ones try to deal with scattered and inaccessible online identities of deceased family members.  Globally, users and companies are still dealing with a nebulous legal and regulatory framework and lack of protocol when it comes to planning for digital assets after death.  In the absence of appropriate planning and protection, your memories can be lost or inaccessible, valuable assets can be lost, and a deceased assets can be at risk for identify theft.

Digital Assets have real financial value associated with them. While items such as e-wallets, Bitcoins and popular domain names may have direct financial worth, a Twitter account with a lot of followers or a popular Facebook account is actually a valuable marketing platform.  Last year, McAfee released the results of a global digital assets survey, and estimated that our digital devices hold an estimated $35,000 of value on average.

These valuable assets can become an easy target for identity thieves. Identities of approximately 2.5 million deceased Americans were stolen last year and this creates a huge financial and emotional burden for people who are left behind to deal with it.
But probably most important risk of not managing digital assets is that memories are at risk of being lost forever.   The McAfee report stated that 55% of respondents expressed that their digital assets are impossible to recreate, download or purchase again.

So where should you start to protect and plan for your digital assets?  Follow these three planning tips:

  1. Take an inventory of all your digital accounts – these include all of your email accounts, blogs, online backup programs, photo and document-sharing sites, financial accounts, iTunes libraries, home utilities managed online, sound, video and photo files.
  2. Keep your digital asset information in a safe place – other than an old fashioned list, google and iCloud have capabilities for this and there are many other password management software application and apps you can use.
  3. Decide how you want your assets to be handled and state your intentions in your will. Decide what you want and then provide your instructions to your executor, or a different family member or friend as your digital estate executor in your will.

Planning ahead for the management of your digital assets will help minimize the emotional and financial loss that your loved ones may experience. Be sure to update your will to include clear instructions about how you want your digital assets to be managed to ensure that your wishes are carried out.

The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.

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