Creating a Digital Estate Plan

Build your digital estate plan with this helpful guide. Don’t allow your photographs and digital media to become irretrievable in the event of the worst.


What is a Digital Estate Plan? It’s a plan to hand over your digital assets to chosen beneficiaries in the event of your death.


How much do you value your digital assets? Think of all your photos both online and offline, all the movies and music you’ve downloaded over the years, spreadsheets and data from your work, digital journals or blogs, email, personal records—What is all that worth to you?

This is a question that humanity is having to embrace more frequently as our lifestyles continue to become more immersive with technology. No longer is it simply a case of passing down the dusty box of photos from one generation to the next—Now we have to comprehend digital storage solutions and the possibility that if we suddenly die, our digital assets may be lost forever if we don’t have an effective digital estate plan in place. We should all take personal responsibility for the unpredictable nature of life, and ensure this small administrative detail has the tick in the box. More and more of us are now facing the reality of this issue in the event of a loved one’s death, but we can personally ensure that we have our own shit together with a few steps discussed here today, ready to be tackled when you next get some spare time.

Research on this subject is relatively recent, and various figures have been thrown around, regarding the average value of an individual’s digital estates—An estimate in the tens of thousands is often thrown around if you’re ever seeking the current estimate of the typical individual’s digital estate assets. But the cost isn’t so important right now—If you have any digital assets that mean something to you and you think that is worth protecting, then read on.

Building your Digital Estate Plan

Offline storage

Firstly, what is your offline storage plan? Do you have many hard drives with photos, movies and other miscellaneous content laying around? Perhaps it’s time for some digital spring cleaning! Grab yourself a few hard-drives and begin to organise your data. Not only is organising your files a good idea for the regular benefits on offer, but it means your loved ones won’t have to go through the hardship of organising your digital administrative mess in the event of the worst.

Encryption

For the more security conscious reading this (And I implore you to be one of them) then there is a good chance that your hard drives are encrypted. In the event of your passing, your fortified hard drives are going to become inaccessible relics to the outside world as a result of your passwords following you when you die – so it’s time to either disclose the password to your nearest and dearest or appoint an executor.

The Executor

The person bestowed with the responsibility of executing your digital estate plan. This is somebody you would declare on your will. (I would suggest seeking legal council in the specifics of this advice, as this will vary from country to country.) Here our will shall contain the passwords, methods, and authority to unlock the entirety of your digital estate online and offline.

Creating a digital estate plan

Creating a cheat sheet for your beneficiaries

Creating a list to guide your executor through the motions is highly advisable, as there is nobody more knowledgeable about the ins and outs of your digital assets than you. No need to write a book, simply make a numbered checklist outlining the fundamental steps of locating and accessing your digital inventory.

For example:

  1. Personal Computer: Can be assessed with password: (Foxdown17)
  2. Online content: Open up my password manager (1Password for example) with password: (Alpha1293F<) to gain access to my online accounts (Twitter, Cloud Storage, eBay, Facebook, Netflix, Paypal, Email, etc.) and here you’ll find all of my logins & passwords.
  3. Offline content: All 3 of my hard-drives can be accessed with password: (Mi03-3@Ghjs)
  4. Phone Access: Pin code: 34504, (iCloud info, etc.)

Many companies are now springing up to meet this challenge. See Estate Map for example.

The legality of digital inheritance

Did you know that eBook you purchased recently, may not be owned by your estate in the event of your death? When buying digital media, you often agree to T&Cs that states: Only YOU can use this content during YOUR lifetime. When agreeing to the Kindle or iTunes EULA, you’re explicitly agreeing to purchase these items for YOUR personal use only. After you’re gone, and your account is closed, that item reverts to the company’s ownership.

This is a tricky situation, as many of you will disagree with this position on principal. Especially as you have probably paid an equal, if not greater price than the physical counterpart. But understanding the current situation of a world that is still trying to figure out the laws of our digital world (Often hopelessly) is something we should all be aware of. I’m not here to advocate any particular direction on this point but be mindful of the fact, that you really have no leg to stand on if you attempt to attack these companies legally, in pursuit of what you think you own. If you must rebel, just provide the appropriate directions of access within your plan and act accordingly.

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