What Happens To My Digital Footprint When I Die?

When you write or update your will, you’re telling your loved ones what you want to happen after you die. In general, you’ll cover these important questions:

  • What should happen to my body?
  • How should my death be observed?
  • What should happen to my money?
  • What should happen to my other possessions?
  • What should happen to my dependents?

There is one more question that everyone should answer, but that we often don’t even think to ask:

What should happen to my digital footprint?

What Is a Digital Footprint?

The term “digital footprint” refers to your online presence—from bank accounts to loyalty programs, emails, photos, websites, and social media profiles; it also includes files you have on your devices.

Why Should I Include My Digital Footprint In My Will?

As with any other item in your will, your digital footprint should be included for many reasons, both practical and sentimental. Including your digital footprint in your will ensure:

  • Your family and/or loan executor has access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial accounts as well as important documents you may have on your hard drive.
  • Strangers don’t have access to all of the above! Leaving your accounts unattended after you die could result in identity theft and actual theft; The identities of recently deceased people are often targeted by scammers, but you can protect your assets from them by planning ahead.
  • You have control over your content, both online and on your devices; If you’re someone who creates content, you may want to address what should happen with your art, photography, writing, and other content that you leave behind.
  • You can pass down the modern version of a shoebox full of photos and index cards; A lot of people have started storing their family’s precious memories and treasured recipes digitally; Make sure they continue to be shared by making them easy to locate and access.
  • You can decide how much of you stays on the internet; Some folks may want their social media accounts deleted, others may want them turned into memorial pages- either way, you get to have a say in it.
  • Your family and loved ones know what you want; This is a simple thing, but it has a huge impact on their grieving process; Making a thousand individual choices about your assets after you die can be really stressful for families experiencing loss; Spelling out exactly what you want can take quite a bit off of their plates and they’ll feel good about being sure they’re doing the right thing with your digital footprint.

How Do I Make a Plan For My Digital Footprint?

1. Make a List

Set aside some time to write a list of all of your accounts and devices.

If that sounds overwhelming, just remember you can always add more to it if you forget something in the first round! You can also break it down into sections—financial, social media, art, photo albums, etc. and then expand on each section one at a time.

2. Choose a Person You Trust

You can include this in the list of tasks for the person who will execute your will. You can also assign this responsibility to someone else or divide it by type if you’d prefer the tasks to be split up. Whoever you choose should be someone you trust and someone who would be comfortable with the personal information they would have access to.

3. “Assign” Them When Possible

There are some websites and accounts that will allow you to assign someone to take over after you die. Many financial institutions have this built into their “beneficiary” section. Some social media sites and devices are offering similar “assignment” options.

For example, Facebook has a “legacy” feature that will give access to a Facebook user of your choice, Google has a service for inactive accounts, and iPhone just added a feature that allows you to appoint someone to take control of your iCloud account.

4. Provide Credentials

There are still cases where you will not have the option to assign access to your accounts. For those, it is wise to have a list of usernames, passwords, security questions, and answers to be entrusted to the person you choose. This is a really sensitive document, so if you want the list to be private until your death, you can give its location in your will.

5. Authorize

Make sure to include authorization and ownership rights if applicable for all of this activity in your will—this is even more important with financial accounts. This should help everything go smoothly.

Even if you only do a few of these things, it will help your loved ones make decisions about your digital assets and put you in control of your online presence after you die. Add these to your next self-care or future-planning day so you can check them off your list and not have to worry about them again.

Photo by Magnus Mueller, via Pexels