How do I make a digital register?
Although not well publicised, an emerging approach to death and the Internet is the ‘digital register’. Passwords and account locations may be recorded in a digital register to accompany the last will and testament and agencies such as the State Trustees of Victoria do recommend this. The digital register contains the locations and passwords of online accounts so that the digital media and files that they hold may be given to friends and relatives. This register can be prepared by an individual, or can be prepared with the assistance of a legal specialist in wills and deceased estates. It is also possible within the digital register to request the closure of some or all online accounts upon death so that sensitive or irrelevant material is deleted.
We recommend the following steps to create a digital register within a will:
The Steps needed to create a digital register
- Identify the Digital Assets: An audit needs to be done of all digital assets. These may include iTunes, Flickr, videos, Facebook, LinkedIn, domain names, blogs, websites, email accounts, application software, eBay, PayPal, online gaming accounts, YouTube, eBay, phone apps, data held on the cloud, Amazon, Google Docs, Dropbox, and other data storing facilities that may be associated with work, hobby, or personal business.
- Nominate Your Digital ‘Executor’: A decision needs to be made about who is going to manage the digital assets upon the death of the individual concerned. This is usually the Executor of the Will, if they are technically savvy enough to locate and access accounts, to identify the files associated with these accounts, and to carry out your instructions in respect of these files. Alternatively, a friend or family member may be nominated to assist in this regard. The digital register and associated instructions may be an appendix to the Will, and like the Will should be kept in a safe place known to the executor. Commercial service providers (e.g. Security Safe or Legacy Locker) offer specialist services that will store important data and passwords that allow nominated individuals access accounts and files in the event of death or disability.
- List the Locations and Access Methods: Details need to be provided on where to find the ‘digital assets’, and clear instructions need to be given on how to access files and groups of files, and on exactly what to do with them upon death. It is important that information about locations, usernames and passwords are up-to-date and retained securely. Finding and gaining access to accounts after death can be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, without this information. Enabling the digital legacy to be disbursed or deleted as appropriate also reduces the possibility of identity theft and the possibility of reputational damage and distress brought to friends and relatives should privacy be violated upon death.
- Prepare the Paperwork: If accounts are to be closed upon death, most companies require a formal process in which proof of death is provided (usually a death certificate or published obituary notice) by a person authorised to act on the deceased behalf (usually the Executor of the Will). They may also require proof that this person is authorised to act on your behalf.
From our research we are also led to advise consumers on the following when preparing instructions in a digital register:
- Do you want a memorial site to be established in your name? Should this be a Facebook memorial site or perhaps a separate website built specifically as a memorial for your friends and relatives. What kinds of things would you like to appear on the site? Do you wish to record a final video or write a final note to use on your memorial? Who would you like to take responsibility for establishing and maintaining the site?
- Do you want your social-network accounts closed, or would you rather they remain open and memorialised as a place for friends and relatives to converse and reminisce?
- What do you wish to happen to the content of cloud accounts, email accounts, Instagram accounts and the like? There may well be many thousands of files in these accounts, and providing individual instructions for each may be impractical. Thoughtful categorisation of files in your archives is a useful thing to do for everyday purposes and will also make the job of deletion or disbursement of your digital estate much easier and more effective.
- It is always good practice to create local archives (back-ups) of your online personal files periodically. This is increasingly easy to do and most of the larger social software companies now offer download facility. However, once the data is downloaded and stored locally it is also important to consider its safety in terms of privacy. If stored on a removable hard-disk for example, consider password protecting or encrypting the disk and keeping it in a secure place. You could also consider giving a second copy to a trusted friend or relative for safekeeping.