Digital Life After Death

digital life graphic

Do you know what will happen to your digital data after you die? As social media and apps have grown over the years, so has the difficulty with managing the profiles and data of people who have passed away. A cottage industry has sprouted up to help people plan for their digital estate, just like how traditional estate planning works for property and other assets. Have you planned for your digital legacy?

With an estimated 972,000 Facebook users who passed away in 2016, the social media site has a helpful FAQ page for how to memorialize or delete a Facebook page of a deceased loved one. For those who like to plan ahead, Facebook also has the option for users to choose in advance what happens to their profile after death.

But with many people using multiple accounts across a wide variety of platforms, managing all of the account policies and requirements after a death can easily become overwhelming for the family. A new set of legislation called the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (2015) has been introduced or adopted by 37 states. This legislation would extend the power of a fiduciary (someone legally responsible for managing property on behalf of another person) to manage digital assets, but also has provisions to protect the privacy of the digital asset owner. While the fiduciary can manage the account, they would not have access to the content of digital communications, like email and text messages, without the explicit written consent of the data owner.

Besides social media, the advent of digital music, e-books, and downloadable videos pose other challenges to digital estate planning. Most vendors of digital content do not allow transfers of content between users, even after death. Over a lifetime, users can amass thousands of dollars’ worth of music, apps, videos, and e-books, which makes the lack of transferability difficult to swallow.

Beyond accounts and apps, the growing use of cryptocurrencies adds to the mix. The Bitcoin Foundation has a handy guide to storing and backing up Bitcoin, which could help with estate planning. The Decentralize Today blog also has a very comprehensive guide to planning Bitcoin inheritance.

Since laws often lag behind technology, it would be wise to plan ahead for your digital afterlife, and not wait until it’s too late to plan for your digital assets.