Your Digital Footprint: How to Protect your Virtual Footprint

The new digital age has seen the onset of countless new conveniences whether through online shopping, banking, entertainment, or social networking. We can now order food and have it delivered to our door, transfer money at the push of a button, and video chat with friends and family that are halfway around the world. Through all these advancements, however, one thing stays the same, the necessity of virtual security. With all these new apps and websites to use comes the addition of endless different passwords to ensure the safety of personal information, with some sites even forcing you to make a new password every x months as an extra layer of security. All in all, this builds up quite the “portfolio” of digital “assets” that can sometimes get confusing. Now, it may not be a comfortable topic, but in the case of the death or incapacity of the owner of these digital accounts, add another layer of complication, as family members now have to weed through various accounts to consolidate their estate.

The good news is that the same advancements in technology that brought around all these security features, questions, passwords, etc. are the same ones that provide a solution here. Available widely on the web are numerous different password vaults and managers that will allow users to store all of this information in one spot. Applications such as LastPass, True Key, Zoho Vault, 1Password and many others all can accomplish this purpose of simplifying this complicated web of components down to something that is easily manageable. Any new website or service you use can easily add log-in information or notes so that if you ever need to log-in and can’t remember your information, the application will do it for you!

These applications also offer the option to designate “digital heirs” that in the case something happens to the user, these vaults can be passed along and not locked permanently! In this manner, those handling the estate can easily gain access to all the accounts necessary all in one place.

In the case that you’d prefer to simply write down all of your log-in information and other important online details in a notebook or binder, which is sufficient, just make sure to let someone know where that “book” is and how to access it! We at DWM have actually put together a document that can help to organize this all in one written location including other important estate information such as the location of trust documents, powers of attorney, etc. Please feel free to use it if you’d prefer the traditional paper copy!

One additional step beyond providing access to your accounts to your digital “executor” is actually letting them know what to do with the accounts. For instance, if you’d prefer your Facebook to be set to “memorialized” which will effectively make the account inactive, but allow family and friends to continue to post memories and stories on the page versus closing it out entirely. Also actively selecting if you’d like certain digital assets to go to certain heirs, for example if you would want your grandson to receive your illustrious Fortnite account or your daughter to receive the log-in for your online knitting chat group, you can designate those wishes either in the password manager app or in your notebook. That way there will be no confusion or argument over who gets what when the time comes to distribute those assets.

As an added layer of protection, the right to digital assets can be specified in a trust document drawn up by an estate planning attorney for those with more complicated situations that need specific direction. These specifications usually outline the power of the successor trustees to access, view, modify or make use of any electronic accounts including those financial sites that are used.

To summarize, from Uber to Schwab to Amazon to Facebook and many, many more, the necessity to build a plan to preserve our digital legacy for when “the time comes” is imperative. Using these plans can ease the transition for your loved ones to get their arms around your digital assets and secure your legacy properly. At DWM, we would encourage you to get these items in order to make things easier on you and your loved ones in the future, hopefully a long time down the road.

Digital Legacy

With all of the various accounts, passwords and files that make up our digital identity today, it is easy to see why organization of this information is essential. While this is a subject that many do not like to discuss, it brings up the interesting concept of digital legacy and how important it is to maintain and preserve your digital identity in the event of incapacity or death.  

It is becoming a more and more common practice for financial advisors, including DWM, as well as estate planning attorneys, to advise their clients on a plan to preserve their digital legacy. According to a survey conducted by NAPFA, two-thirds of NAPFA members said that they do in fact advise their clients on digital legacy.

As part of our DWM “Total Wealth Management” process, we provide our clients with an “Estate Flow.”  This has three parts. First, a concise and easy to read recap of all of their estate documents to make it easier to review so that they can assess whether their documents outline their current wishes or if changes need to be made.  Second, a review of titling and beneficiary designations, to make sure the disposition of the estate is as desired and its administration is as hassle-free as possible.  And, third, our recommendations. We have recently added a review of our clients’ digital legacy as part of this process.

It is vital that all information is stored in one designated place to ensure that your entire estate is transitioned smoothly and easily.    There are many applications and services that can help you store passwords to preserve digital legacy. Having a password manager for your passwords so that someone can log in to your accounts in the event of your incapacity or passing and take care of your digital assets is essential. Many cloud-based digital services will actually wipe your data after an account is closed, so it is imperative that your loved ones have a way to access this information before that occurs. Some of the more useful password tools that enable the user to assign heirs include PasswordBox and Zoho Vault.

Aside from password protection, there are other steps individuals can take to ensure their digital legacy is properly handled, such as the introduction of “digital heirs.” As digital legacies begin to become a common hindrance in postmortem estate processes, more companies, such as Google’s Gmail, are instituting ways to improve the flow of digital legacies. Through Gmail’s Inactive Account Manager, found in your account settings page, you can now specify what you would like to have done upon account inactivity. After three, six, nine, or twelve weeks, the user can choose to have his or her data automatically deleted or have a notification email sent to trusted contacts. By enabling a contact email to be sent, the user is allowing this contact to access his or her account, which may contain sensitive information, so it is important to choose this contact selectively. 

The bottom line is this: It is necessary to develop and implement a plan to preserve your digital legacy and ease the transition for your loved ones, making it as simple as possible for them to take care of your digital assets, including financial accounts.  Specifically, at DWM, we would recommend three key components:

  1. Take and record an inventory of all of your digital assets including your user names and passwords and store that information in a secure place.
  2. Work with your estate planning attorney to make sure that digital asset provisions are included in your estate documents. These provisions should allow your successor Trustees or executor/executrix the power to access, view, modify and make use of any electronic accounts including online financial accounts.
  3. Consider providing your successor trustee or executor/executrix now with information about your digital assets.

At DWM we believe your digital assets are a very important part of your legacy.  Getting things in order now can significantly help your loved ones in the future.