Keeping your digital assets from going with you to the “big cloud in the sky”
When my oldest child, now 25, was about to be born, I bought a video camera and recorded every detail before and after his birth. Over the years, I have recorded Easter egg hunts, birthdays, athletic events, holidays, and graduations. These recordings have been my wife and my way of stopping time. Watching these videos have brought much joy and for at least a moment or two, allowed us to relive much of what we value. In the past, if our house caught on fire, I might not run to grab the recordings first, but they would be a close second.
It is for that reason that after digitizing our earlier recordings, I sought to protect these valuable memories by moving them offsite and password protecting them. It never occurred to me what would happen if I died or became incapacitated and the originals were lost or destroyed. My wife or my children might not even know that I had the good judgment to digitize and store our recordings and photographs offsite.
Even if they did know, they well might have great difficulty to access those memories without the right passwords. The reason is that the probate laws that govern such things have not yet caught up with our new reality of online digital communication, storage, and social media. When you and I open an email or a social media account or sign up to use online storage, we make an agreement whereby we are given a license or “right to use” Facebook, Dropbox or Gmail. The terms of those licenses dictate what happens when we die. This is important because those terms may not make it easy to obtain a new password, download saved data, or preserve emails.
How can you protect yourself? A good starting point is to: (1) create a password protected document that lists all your on-line accounts, passwords, security questions with answers, and whether the accounts have monetary value (think about all those iTunes songs you bought); (2) keep the list current; (3) give special instructions to your executor on locating and opening this master list, as well as identify which assets should be deleted versus which should be passed on to family members or those inheriting under the will; and (4) designate someone you trust, preferably a tech-savvy person, to help ease the transition in the event of your incapacity or death.
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