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Digital Estate and Legacy

Tips for CLC Trainers
Digital estate? Who cares?

If you should ever die or become incapacitated, what becomes of

your presence online? (Spoiler: it doesn’t disappear).

In my own experience, it was harder to manage email and Internet

accounts when family members passed than it was to handle
funeral arrangements, financial bequests, personal possessions, and
all those “last instructions” that we’ve dealt with for generations.
For instance, I was never able to close their Yahoo accounts.
Around the web there are many other stories about these “ghostly”
situations and they can be very frustrating to surviving family.

And if you don’t want to think about posterity, consider what you
will need if you have to spend a while in a hospital and are unable to
get online.

Some preparation will greatly help you and your caretakers–and

survivors if need be, especially anyone acting as an executor. The
tips assembled here are a start, but only a start. Laws and policies
are changing rapidly in this area, so if you find yourself needing to
deal with this, update these tips with a fresh web search.

Digital estate? What is that?

The term “digital estate”–or “digital legacy”–refers to all of

your online accounts plus your digital assets, which may be
monetary but may also include photos, videos, messages, music,
texts–anything that’s a file online or on a computer, phone or
tablet. In other words, lots of stuff.

To begin with, there is a difference between accounts and assets.

Your Digital Estate and Legacy: Tips for CLC Trainers

Online accounts

Email accounts, the online logins to bank accounts, Facebook,

Instagram, Google, and all social media accounts, etc., are owned by
the provider, not by the user. We get to use our gmail accounts, for
example, only because access is temporarily licensed to us by
Google. They own the account; a user cannot pass it on to anyone. If
you notify the provider of someone’s death, they may close the
account or they may freeze it or they may ignore it. It’s their
decision, not the account holder’s.

In the case of bank accounts, etc., the money belongs to the estate,
of course, but the online account–the login–belongs to and is
administered by the bank (or other financial institution).

This means that caretakers, next-of-kin, executors, and others have

no access or control over what happens unless specific
arrangements have been made in advance. Some states have begun
requiring providers to give limited access to legal executors for a
limited time, but don’t assume this will be much help.

Share your account logins!

Yes, we hear all the time “Don’t share your passwords with anyone!”
But that is terrible advice. Don’t share them widely, or on Post-its
on your computer monitor, etc. But do share them with someone(s)
you trust. If you’re hospital-bound for a while, who would you ask
for help with paying your bills? Answering your correspondence?
These are the folks who will need access to your accounts if you
can’t access them. If you don’t trust anyone immediately, leave the
information in a sealed envelope with a lawyer or whoever will be
your executor.

You probably have more password-protected accounts than you

might think. More than one email? Amazon? Microsoft? Apple ID?
Phone company? Internet service? Cable TV? Water, electric, or gas
utility? Credit cards? Debit card? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,
news? Paypal? Medicare, Social Security? And on and on.
Your Digital Estate and Legacy: Tips for CLC Trainers

To help manage these accounts, I’ve created a spreadsheet (in both

Excel and PDF formats) you could use as a start, though you may
have to add more entries.

Digital Assets: Photos, Messages, Money, etc.

• Are there email messages you will want saved? Deleted?

• Do you have family photos on Flickr, Dropbox, Google
Photos, Instagram, Facebook, as email attachments, etc.?
• Genealogy material and/or DNA results on Ancestry,
23andme, etc.?
• Money in Paypal, Venmo, Apple Wallet, or other digital
• Books or music on iTunes, Amazon, your computer, or
elsewhere (yours if you uploaded them, theirs if you
“bought”–or rather leased–from them)?

Be sure to leave instructions for these files as well as the accounts

they reside in.
Rob McBride
SF Community Living Campaign
September 5, 2019