Digital Estate Planning: Who Inherits Your Online Accounts?

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Digital estate planning is a task that we can no longer ignore. It’s our natural instinct to keep online passwords private and secure – and that’s a good thing! However, you shouldn’t been so keen to keep your passwords under wraps that you end up taking them to the grave (unfortunately, we mean that literally).

Without a comprehensive estate plan that considers who will manage your online accounts once you are no longer able, you could be exposing a lifetime’s worth of sensitive information to hackers and identity theft attacks. Without getting too morbid, also consider the stress that comes with requesting new passwords as a third-party representative. It is an unnecessary burden on an already bereaved family.

Digital Estate Planning - Your Guide to Planning for your Digital Assets

Digital estate planning 101

Your “digital assets” include anything from email accounts, online purchases, shopping accounts, banking and investing accounts to social networking profiles, cloud file storage, digital music libraries, photo albums and photo sharing programs. The value of these assets cannot be understated – how would you feel if all these things were wiped out tomorrow? Including them as part of your estate means that you are including them as a valuable part of the legacy you are leaving for your family and friends.

You’ve probably already shared passwords with loved ones in the past. In fact, a Pew research study showed that 67 percent of married or coupled Internet users have shared passwords with each other. However, digital estate planning is so much more than sharing passwords – which itself can be a dizzying task once you start considering factors like: Have you remembered to share all your passwords? Have you changed any since you last shared a password? Have you shared them in a secure manner? Do your loved ones know how you’d like your accounts managed on your behalf?

If you’re feeling like the task of documenting and organizing each and every item of your digital estate sounds overwhelming – we hear you. We’ve found that using a secure password manager simplifies the process of digital estate planning. Here are a few key steps to take:

Digital Estate Planning – 4 StepsDigital Estate Planning - 4 Steps from SpeedyPassword

  • Identify & List all of your online accounts that require a password. Don’t forget memberships and subscriptions that might have an online component. Logging each entry into a secure password manager as you identify them can save you the security risk of writing them down on a piece of paper or putting them in an unrestricted spreadsheet. Many password managers have an export function that will build you a complete list of all the accounts logged in the program at just the click of a button.
  • Choose a “trustee” who will be the sole person allowed access to your digital assets. It might be a spouse, adult child or close friend who is the best fit for you. Above all, it should be someone you trust to properly handle the responsibility, and act according to your wishes.
  • Arrange for access: Being a trustee is a huge responsibility. You can make it easier for them by providing one master password, securely held by a password manager, which will give them access to all your online accounts. Using a password manager for digital estate planning also means you won’t have to worry about updating your trustee every time you add a new account or change your settings!
  • Prepare instructions: You should review your estate planning documents at least once a year, to ensure your directions are up-to-date. You can include a clause in your Will that states how you would like your digital assets handled – be sure to consult with a legal professional about the legal requirements and rights for your place of residence. If you are not comfortable disclosing your master password to your trustee now, you can include it (or instructions on where to find it) with your estate planning documents, or in a clause in the Will itself.

The conversation of digital estate planning can be stressful and uncomfortable. But it is a conversation worth having, especially in order to relieve your loved ones of the stress and difficulties of managing an estate without a clear plan. Your lawyer, accountant and financial adviser can all assist you with the process – and you might even surprise them with your newfound knowledge of the increasingly important issue of digital estate planning!


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