Digital Estate Planning



What is Your Digital Estate?

Almost without realizing this, we have shifted toward an all-digital culture where things like family photos, home movies, and personal letters now exist only in digital form. We also depend on online services to manage our financial affairs, buy goods and services, and communicate with friends and family members.

These digital records include descriptions, locations, URLs, passwords, registration details, and other identifiers. It’s difficult enough to keep track of all this, but think what would happen if your computer crashed and you didn’t have a backup. Also, have you considered what will happen to your accounts and digital assets when you die?

A Digital Asset Inventory is a document that captures all this information. It can be a text document, spreadsheet, or database, and you need to update it regularly. You can also use online services, but investigate them thoroughly before you commit.

Identify Your Digital Assets

  • Do you know what they are and how to access them?
  • What happens to them if you become incapacitated or die? Does your family know where everything is and do they have access?
  • Will they know what to do with the assetts?

Asset Examples

  • Hardware & Software: Mobile phones, computers, tablets, external hard drives, digital cameras. Software licenses and subscriptions.
  • Communication & Entertainment: Email, social networks, messaging services, photos, videos, music, gaming, online entertainment, newspapers, magazines, blogs.
  • Cloud Services: Cloud storage and backup, cloud applications, web hosting, domain registration, blogs, and online businesses.
  • Databases: Photo and video libraries, digital organizers, medical records, and legal documents.
  • Financial Management: Banks, investments and savings, money management, loans, credit cards, retirement accounts, automatic bill payments, and deposits.
  • Insurance Accounts: Life, property, vehicle, health, long-term care.
  • Merchant Accounts: Shopping, travel rewards, food delivery, loyalty programs.
  • Intellectual Property & Heirlooms: Copyrighted digital materials, registered trademarks, patents, photos, videos.

Create a Digital Asset Inventory

  1. Collect all information needed to access the accounts.
  2. Document the information so that it is secure but easily accessed by your Digital Executor (the person you trust to carry out your wishes).

The inventory should include everything needed to describe your accounts, their location, login information, passwords, and all other metadata that accompany digital assets. Do not forget photos, documents, and backups stored in the cloud or off-site locations.

Because this information often changes it is critical that you review and the inventory regularly. It is also important to protect data by encrypting spreadsheets or using tools such as 1 Password.

Use a worksheet template to record your digital assets. Change the template to fit your needs and keep it in a safe place to share with trusted people who might need the information.

Plan for Unexpected Events

Your inventory will be useful to you in your daily life, but it is important to plan for two types of unexpected events.

  • The computer containing your inventory crashes or your house burns down, there is a flood, tornado, or hurricane, and you lose your computer and all paper copies of your inventory. This should not be a big problem if you have been diligent in maintaining backups, including off-site copies.
  • You die and your heirs need access to your digital assets. You should identify someone that you trust to be your Digital Executor and let them know your wishes. For example, you might want them to:
    • Archive everything for your heirs.
    • Provide access to specific content by specific individuals or groups. Delete some or all of your digital assets. Be specific about your wishes.
  • If you want to let your executor decide, make that clear in the instructions.
By Phil Davis -- Updated 2023-02-25