Digital Estate Planning

Tina Haapala |

By Tina Haapala

(Note: I was busy again this week, so I asked Tina Haapala to continue the Digital Estate Planning discussion she began last week. As you’ll see, it’s more than just Facebook.)

While extreme, the recent battle between Apple and the FBI regarding access into a terrorist’s iPhone is a stark reminder that the information in our own devices may be needed when we pass as well.  Of course, it won’t be the FBI wanting or needing your information (I would hope). Instead, your family may love to have access to your Facebook photos or your favorite Pandora music stations to supplement their memories. But that’s just the beginning.

Our highly digital lives have created more loose ends to be tied up once we pass. Think for a moment how many websites and apps we use in our daily lives. Social media, music, email, shopping, video/movie streaming (like Netflix), and Cloud storage sites may all have your digital imprint. And besides your online bank accounts, you may also have other payment or money management services that are connected to your financial life (PayPal, Mint). If you use a password manager, somebody would need to know which service as well as the password that’s used for that service. We even have passwords to get into the devices we use all those other passwords for: our phones, laptops, and tablets could all be inaccessible if we don’t make arrangements.

A website and service called offers ways to manage your digital estate. Now, you’ll still need an actual person to do the work, a digital executor.  This way, sites that need to be cancelled can be cancelled, and if there are any assets stored digitally (like a website domain or airline miles) your digital executor has access. This access, combined with your will, can help get these assets to the right place. Your will explains your wishes for your estate in full, your digital executor will have the tools to get to the digital assets and files.

A website you own that generates revenue could continue to do so for your heirs, but only if they have access. Points for credit cards or airline miles may be able to be converted to cash, again, as long as they can get into the online accounts. Some of this may vary between states, and may not mesh with some companies’ terms of service, but it is still important to make your wishes known in your will.

Some things not to share in your will: the actual passwords connected to your digital life. Once you die, your will becomes a public document. So unless you want just anyone to be able to know about the excessive amount of hair dye and waxing strips you’ve purchased on Amazon (or something really embarrassing), pick someone you trust to be your digital executor, and let them know which accounts to delete first. 

This article was published in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on May 15, 2016.