The first step toward creating a digital estate plan is making a list of all your digital assets. Consider the following when creating your digital inventory:
- Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
- Blogs or websites that you own
- Email accounts
- Online retail accounts
- Mobile apps that link to a digital wallet, such as Starbucks
- Music files
- Frequent flier miles or other points/rewards systems
- PayPal or eBay accounts
While not all of these accounts may be tied to a financial asset (e.g. social media accounts), you will likely still want some action taken on them upon your death. Once you have a list of all of your digital accounts, it’s important to write down each of your usernames and passwords in a secure location. The average Internet user has approximately 26 different accounts and 10 unique passwords, so if you don’t keep a resource with all of this information, tracking it down may be impossible for your executor. Using an online storage resource such as SecureSafe can be a good option, as it stores all your passwords and logins in one secure location. These services are typically free to store up to a certain number of passwords—beyond that number, you will be charged a fee. You can also store this information on an encrypted flash drive or CD, or keep a list in a safe deposit box. No matter how you choose to store this information, make sure you don’t store it in your will, as it will become public if it goes through probate, allowing anyone access to all of your accounts. Try to update your username and password list at least once a year, or at least when you make a change to an account, or add or get rid of one.
Keep in mind that legal issues may prevent just anyone from accessing these accounts; some terms-of-service agreements limit access to authorized users, no matter what. Some may have exceptions if an executor is logging in “in the best interests of your estate,” or may release certain contents of the account, such as photographs or posts, to the executor, but not the actual account information. These restrictions will also vary according to state law.