Managing Your Digital Assets

Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy?
By Evan Carroll and John Romano

Email accounts. Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter. Tumblr. Flickr. YouTube. Your data is going to outlive you. My first exposure to issues with digital legacies was after 9/11, when surviving friends and loved ones were left with voice mail messages from those who died. There was some debate about whether this electronic remnant offered helpful comfort or impeded the grieving process, and what to do with those messages from the deceased. We all will leave digital legacies behind. Evan Carroll and John Romano have discovered a new wrinkle in estate planning: what to do with your digital legacy.

Your Life Online
More of our life now happens on-line: email replaces letters, Picasa replaces family albums, and birth announcements are made on Facebook. Carroll and Romano outline the issues of access, ownership, privacy and preservation. We may have worked hard to create something of value in the digital world that we want preserved. We may have other items we don’t want passed on, or even viewed by family and loved ones after our death. Understanding the current limitations of managing a decedent’s digital presence and devising a plan to deal with them are at the core of this book.

Who Owns Your Data
You might think the hard part is deciding whether to pass on your digital legacy, or lay it to rest. Not so fast. You won’t necessarily be able to assign your email account to another person after your demise. Carroll and Romano describe the lengths to which one man had to go in order to preserve email correspondence with his son, a soldier who was killed defusing a roadside bomb in Fallujah. Father and son had intended to create a scrapbook of the emails and pictures, a request the family planned to honor in memory of their son. But the family’s request for the emails was blocked by Yahoo!, citing its Terms of Service, which said accounts were non-transferable. It took six months, national attention and a court case to allow the family to have access to the son’s email account.

Organizing Your Digital Assets – A Resource
Your Digital Afterlife outlines these issues, then turns into a workbook that goes through hardware devices (computer, phones) and online tools (websites, email) to help you develop a plan for assisting your appointed Digital Executor to identify the assets, gain access, and understand your wishes for them.  To find out more:

My interest in technology relates to how people interact with it, and how it helps them interact with each other. This book is a highly readable look at a cutting edge issue affecting us all, and it offers very practical solutions you can put into action.

This review first appeared in NAPFA Advisor Magazine.