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What is a digital estate plan and why should you have one?

From taking stock of your digital assets to creating a digital estate plan, ensure your social media, bank accounts and more don’t cause a headache for your family after you’re gone.

Twenty years ago, a digital estate plan would probably have been your email login details, scribbled on a piece of paper.

However, with the advent of social media and the vast quantities of online content created every day, a person’s digital legacy can be a vast, eclectic mix of data and content.

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What is a digital estate plan?

A digital estate plan is a document or set of instructions that outlines how a person's digital assets and online accounts should be managed or disposed of after their death or incapacity.

These digital assets may include emails, social media accounts, online banking and investment accounts, digital photos and videos and other forms of digital property. 

A digital estate plan typically includes details on how to access these accounts and assets, who should be granted access, what should be done with the data and how to manage any outstanding debts or liabilities related to these accounts.  

Do I need a digital estate plan?

Unless you’ve been living off-grid, even the lightest users of digital media will need to consider their digital assets in a will.

If you have any of the items in our digital asset checklist below, then you definitely need to begin planning your digital estate.  

Why is digital estate planning important?

It is important to have a digital estate plan in place to ensure that your digital assets are properly handled and protected, and that your wishes are respected after death or incapacity. 

The creation of a digital estate plan is also becoming increasingly important as more and more of our lives are lived online.

Without a digital estate plan, it can be difficult or impossible for family members or loved ones to access and manage a person's digital assets after their death or incapacity.

You should undertake digital asset planning as a standalone project or as part of wider considerations to assist your family in dealing with your finances after you’re gone. 

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Four-point digital estate planning checklist

Digital assets are dynamic and evolve with software and technology, so you should always keep your digital estate under review.

To assist in your assessment, we have put together the following digital estate planning checklist: 

1. Online purchases of digital products

The online equivalent of your DVD and CD collection. These digital assets may include music or film purchases on platforms such as iTunes or Prime Video.

They can also include Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), which are unique digital items, often artwork stored in a blockchain.

NFTs can also generate income through royalties so specifying their ownership in a digital asset plan is crucial. 

2. Digital finance assets

When considering what digital assets are in a will, digital banking and financial assets should be a priority.

Banks such as Monzo are online only, so sharing access in your digital estate plan is a must.

The same goes for credit cards, insurance policies and savings and investment accounts.  

Don’t forget to include any cryptocurrency access information and logins. 

3. Personal digital content and memories 

Every minute of every day, Instagram users post 46,740 photos. Our photo albums are now online, and years of memories could be lost upon account deletion.  

Facebook and Instagram allow you to nominate a person to handle your legacy account should the worst happen.

However, others such as LinkedIn, bank accounts and email providers will require login details.

Essentially, ensuring that access to digital platforms is passed on through good digital asset planning will help things run smoothly. 

4. Digital devices

Physical digital devices such as your smartphone, tablet, laptop, smartwatch and much else will hold digital assets within them as well as providing access to cloud accounts.

As with other digital assets, ensuring that login details and passwords are securely handed on is the key to avoiding complications later on. 

How to create a digital estate plan

By now you’re probably thinking ‘how do I start my digital asset planning?’ 

1. Take an inventory of your digital assets and anything that you think might need to be dealt with after you’re gone. As per our checklist above, this can include email accounts, online banking accounts, social media, cloud storage and loyalty card accounts. If you own a website or blog, then consider domain and platform logins. 

2. Store all login details securely — they are the key to your digital life and security. Using a password storage tool will enable you to store all access data under a single login. Apple Keychain can do this; however, you will need to remember to pass on your iCloud login details. Other password storage tools include Dashlane and LastPass 

3. Choose a digital executor and specify who this is in your will. It may be the same as the person who has power of attorney for the rest of your estate, however, bear in mind that this person will need to have some awareness of digital and social media in order to execute your wishes.

4. Discuss your digital asset plan with a legal representative or financial adviser.  

What are the consequences of not having a digital estate plan 

As a consequence of not having a plan in place, there is the potential for confusion among friends and family, disputes over ownership, and even legal issues as to who has the rights of access to digital assets.

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About the author
Elizabeth Antaloczy is the Marketing Director at Unbiased and has over two decades of experience writing and producing impactful content that motivates people to take action.