Home Op-Ed What Happens to Your
Digital Assets when You Die?
What Happens to Your Digital Assets when You Die?

What Happens to Your
Digital Assets when You Die?


On a personal level your digital legacy is the combination of your many points of digital interaction in the online space – including financial accounts, social media accounts, content you posted online, online subscriptions, online photo collections, and more. Some of the most important things you have to think about when you die is who will inherit your money and property; if you’re not clued up on this, read Everything Need To Know When Inherit Property. But something we don’t think about is what will happen to all your digital property. Do you know the access information to all these accounts? Does your spouse know for the personal accounts and/or does your partner know for the business accounts or will it all be lost when you are no longer around? When you are gone who will inherit your digital property? Do you want to control who does and what they do with it?

It is estimated that most individuals in developed countries will create approximately 88 GB of data in their lifetime. This includes Twitter tweets, Facebook posts, bookmarks, photos, artwork, logos, videos, blogs, email, etc. It is also estimated that less than 35% of Americans have a will, trust or power of attorney, to take care of their things when they pass. What then will happen to all this digital property? If not prepared for, these digital possessions, expressions, artifacts, become lost, closed down, deleted, or removed. We don’t want that because these digital assets chronicle life, history, identity, and wealth. They have value – some financial, some chronological, and some emotional. But value is something YOU want to protect.

A note of caution – there may be a lot of YOU or your company out there. Consider doing some “curating” of your online presence – both for you and your company. Clean up some of the digital litter now to make it easier for others later. Evan Carroll and John Romano put it nicely in their book, Your Digital Afterlife, “the things you value simply may not be valuable to your heirs.”

Remember too that this process can help you while you are alive as well – to identify lost accounts, or put all the information in one place for quick reference. Do you know where you are online? Doing the plan may surprise you.


Digital Legacy Plan (Personal)

Make a list. Inventory all your digital devices, online accounts, subscriptions, etc. Make sure to note name of account, site or company account is with, access codes such as an id or password, answers to security questions, expiration and renewal dates for domains, etc.

Review the list and note next to each what you want done with each account when you pass away – should it be deleted, should the password be given to a spouse, should it be converted to a memorial page (such as in Facebook), etc.?

Review the list a second time and find and read the Terms of Service for the online accounts. Do they permit the access information to be transferred or not? What do they need to close the account a=or transfer it – such as a death certificate, obituary, etc.

Think about appointing a Digital Executor and speak with them about what you would like them to do. This can be a lot of responsibility – make sure you select someone you trust, who is technologically savvy, and won’t mind the work.

Review your digital plan with an attorney. Keep in mind that some of your digital property, like your tangible property, may be subject to state laws covering succession and distribution. Just a few states, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Idaho, already have specific legislation dealing with online accounts. The rest of the states do not.

Put the list away in a safe place or use an online service, such as Entrustet, Legacy Locker, etc. Do not put the list in your will, as this becomes a public document after your death and you do not want your passwords available for all to see.

Keep the list updated with new accounts, disabled or terminated accounts, and changes of passwords.

Talk to who needs to know about this – your spouse, business partner, child, and/or significant other.


Digital Assets

“A rose by any other name” goes Shakespeare’s prose – a name is a powerful thing. Label something and you can control it by limiting it based on its definition. You can also expand on its meaning by combining it with other labels. Digital Assets are also referred to as: Digital Artifacts, Digital Footprint, Digital Presence, Digital Property (IP and beyond), Digital Possessions, Digital Dirt/Clutter/Litter or even Online Stuff.


Some Digital Asset Types (Personal)

• Accounts with Credit Card Information (Amazon, Lands End, etc.)

• Adult Content Accounts

• Airline Frequent Flyer Mile Accounts

• Bank & Financial Accounts

• Business Accounts

• Computers, laptops, tablets, and cell phones (technology devices)

• E-bay; Craigslist; iTunes, etc.

• E-Mail Accounts

• Lifestyle Specific Accounts (Ancestry.com, Food.tv, etc.)

• Medical and Generic Information Accounts

• Online and Social Games (Farmville, WII, Words with Friends, Second Life, WOW)

• Online Bill Payments Systems (including PayPal)

• Photo & Video Sharing Sites (Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube)

• Shared Accounts –like Google Docs, DropBox

• Social Media Accounts

• Voice-mail Accounts (ex. Google Voice, etc.)


Some Digital Asset Types (Business)

• Bank and Financial Accounts

• Client Account Systems

• Employee E-mail Accounts

• Human Resource Systems (online)

• Payroll Systems (ADP, etc.)

• Procurement/Vendor Accounts (w/ Company credit card info)


Businesses and corporations also create tons of digital data – from internal sources such as reports to end-user content generated and gathered from their social media forum sites. Who has access to this data and where it is stored in the company? Who knows the account credentials such as user ids and passwords?

Part of the reason why ownership and access questions are important is because these personal and corporate digital assets have value. When the risk management plan is developed the impact of any risk associated with these assets are based on the value the company believes they have. It needs to be distinguished the value of the digital account vs. the value of the content on that account. Companies are currently trying to understand how to manage these digital assets and how to measure their value. For example will the number of Twitter followers affect the value of a merger and acquisition (M&A)? If prior security breaches are considered when a buy-out of another company is being evaluated, with the same be true of a social media mishap? These questions are starting to show up at the Board of Director meetings. What other questions will your firm need to consider regarding its digital legacy?


~ Excerpted from “Managing Online Risk: Apps, Mobile, and Social Media Security” D Gonzalez, Elsevier, 2015.

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Deborah Gonzalez
Deborah Gonzalez
Deborah Gonzalez, Esq. is an attorney and the founder of Law2sm, LLC, a legal consulting firm focusing on helping its clients navigate the legal and security issues relating to the new digital and social media world. Deborah is the co-developer of the Digital Risk Assessment tool that assists a company to ensure that their online activity is in line with state laws, federal laws, and regulatory compliance.


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