Digital asset management: 4 steps for protecting your digital legacy

Key Points

  • If you don’t create a clear, written plan for managing your digital assets after you’re gone, your loved ones may not be able to access them.
  • Securely document your digital accounts and how to access them.
  • Revise your will to include instructions on how you want your digital assets handled after you’re gone.

As more aspects of our lives move online, it’s critical to establish a plan for managing your digital assets after you are gone.

In February 2015, Facebook made news when it announced a policy that allows you to designate a “legacy contact,” someone who will be allowed to add a single post to your timeline and archive your past posts and photos after you pass away.

This is a huge step, in part because so much of our lives exist primarily in electronic formats. Your digital legacy could include anything from a music library to a memoir you’ve been working on. Establishing a plan to manage these types of assets now can save your family a lot of time, money, frustration and heartache later.

Here are four things you can do now to start creating a digital asset management plan.

1. Find out what your digital assets are worth

The average person values their digital assets at $55,000, according to Naomi Cahn, a George Washington University professor who has written extensively on the topic. This includes photos, personal communication, video files and more. The monetary value of these items is one good reason to consider a digital asset management plan, not to mention the sentimental value to your heirs.

2. Know who owns your digital assets

Who controls your digital accounts in lieu of a written plan? Unfortunately, there are no simple answers. In many cases, it’s your internet service provider. “The click-through service agreements when you sign up for an account may note that you cannot transfer the account to anybody else,” Cahn says, adding that similar rules are in place for some social networks. “One of them could control your digital archives.”

The law is lagging behind in offering consumer protection. “Right now there are only a few states with clear legislation governing these issues,” Cahn adds. “So it’s in your best interest to be as specific as possible when writing a plan.”

3. Take a digital inventory

There are practical financial reasons to have a digital asset management plan as well. According to Cahn, the average person may have at least 25 different accounts and passwords. Say you have bills that are auto-paid – unless you appoint someone to close those accounts, withdrawals will continue.

Create a locked paper document or secure database with passwords and security questions for your e-mail, banking and other online accounts such as blogs, photo storage services and social media accounts. Doing so will make it easy for family to access or close down your profile(s), notify e-mail correspondents of your passing and take care of any financial concerns.

4. Prepare your loved ones to oversee your digital assets

There are two key things you can do to ensure your digital legacy is handled how you want by who you want.

  • Insert a clause into your will spelling out what you want done with your digital assets. “You need to create a power of attorney to access your digital assets,” Cahn says.
  • Consider appointing a digital trustee, someone you can trust with access to your online presence and who has the skills and knowledge to help see your wishes are carried out.

Questions on how to leave the legacy you want to the people you love? Contact your Ameriprise financial advisor.