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Digital wills

When you die, your worldly goods are dealt with according to your official will, but what happens to your digital assets?

People have more than physical possessions these days. We have all sorts of digital assets stored online, such as photos and email accounts, but what happens to these when we die? How will your loved ones know which services you’re signed up to and how to cancel them?

A “digital will” is the solution. Here’s what you need to know, plus a digital will template.

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What is a digital will?

It’s not a legal document, like an official will, but a list of all your digital assets, where they’re stored and the username or email address you signed up with. This information helps your estate retrieve any assets and deactivate accounts.

Even if your online presence is only as big as a single email account, you should set up a digital will.
Even if your online presence is only as big as a single email account, you should set up a digital will.

Don’t include your passwords in your digital will. While this may seem like an easy solution, it increases the risk of your accounts being hacked. Sharing passwords also breaches many services’ terms and conditions. We don’t recommend sharing your passwords.

Even if your online presence is only as big as a single email account, you should set up a digital will. While you may not consider your digital assets to be of interest, they can have important information, such as evidence of a new relationship or a record of a recent purchase. Don’t forget the sentimental value of your photos and videos to your loved ones.

It’s important to regularly update your digital will. We recommend storing it, or instructions on how to access it, with your official will.

What does a digital executor do?

While the executor of an official will deals with the deceased’s physical assets, a digital executor handles their digital ones. This usually involves contacting services to let them know you have died, retrieving data (if possible) and requesting closure of accounts.

We recommend choosing someone competent with technology.
We recommend choosing someone competent with technology.

A digital executor’s job involves emailing, organising logins and scanning documents (some services require your death be verified), so we recommend choosing someone competent with technology. Some service’s terms and conditions allow the digital executor to retrieve data, so they need to know how to download and store data.

Once your digital assets are retrieved, we recommend requesting the account be closed or blocked. Some services, such as Facebook, won’t necessarily close an account but instead allow limited continued use by a digital executor.

Some digital service providers offer legacy policies that make a digital executor’s job easier. Generally, a legacy policy allows you to designate a person who the service will allow to access your digital assets after your death and assets they are allowed to access. We advise setting up legacy policies wherever possible.

What are my digital assets?

Examples of digital services and assets are:

  • email accounts
  • social media accounts
  • online storage of photos and videos
  • online shopping accounts, such as TradeMe or Amazon
  • computer system and mobile device backups
  • artwork on websites, such as DeviantArt.

Online services to cancel

While your digital executor won’t have access to the data in these services, they should close down the accounts. Some services may have been set up to automatically renew.

  • music and video accounts, such as iTunes
  • subscriptions, such as e-books
  • on-demand streaming video services, such as Netflix
  • gaming accounts, such as Steam.

Bank accounts

While you might access your bank account electronically, it is still a physical asset and should be handled in your official will.

Examples of legacy policies

Examples of legacy policies adopted by companies are:

Facebook

Memorialises their page with “Remembering” next to their name, a “legacy contact” can also manage new friend requests and post to account or the page can be deleted. The legacy contact must be assigned before the account is memorialised.

Twitter

Deactivates the account. An executor can request a history of tweets.

Gmail

Sets up a timed email to a designated person letting them know the account hasn’t been used for a set period (3, 6, 9, 12, 15 or 18 months). You can choose what data associated with your account to share with this person. You can also select for your account to be deleted after a set period.

Spark Xtra

Spark operates on a case-by-case basis, working with the family. Usually the account is closed and all data will be inaccessible 4 months later. In the case of joint accounts, the account will be transferred to the other person’s name. However, in the case of accounts accessed by an email client, such as Outlook, Spark says data may continue to be available. As some email clients store data locally on a computer, the email history will remain available – it is out of Spark’s control.

TradeMe

Account can be deactivated. TradeMe will work with the family regarding any ongoing transactions.

We suggest contacting all the services in your digital will and inquiring about their legacy policies.

Consumer’s legacy policy

Consumer has policies for cancelling or transferring a membership in the event a member dies. A refund can be requested if the payment method used to pay for the subscription is still active (credit card or bank account), otherwise a written request must be received from the executor of the estate or the estate lawyer. If a refund isn’t requested, we can close or transfer the account.

By Erin Bennett.

Template

Download our digital will template (12.4 KB) or copy and paste the text below.

Fill out the fields in bold with square brackets around them. It’s not necessary to assign a second digital executor, but it’s a good idea.

[Your name] digital will

Digital executor: [Name]
Alternative digital executor: [Name]

Emails

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

Cloud storage

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

Photo storage

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

Video storage

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

Subscriptions

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

[Name of service]
[Your username]
[Comments]

Example

Joseph Smith’s digital will

Digital executor: Jane Smith
Alternative digital executor: John Smith

Emails

Hotmail
Username joe.smith@hotmail.com
Gmail
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com
Xtra
Username Joe.Smith.Plumber@xtra.co.nz

Cloud storage

OneDrive
Username joe.smith@hotmail.com
Comment: there is a folder called artwork, access this folder only.
Google Drive
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com
Comment: You can access any folder except the one marked private.
Dropbox
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com

Photo storage

Google Photos
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com
Comment: You can access any folder except the one marked private.

Video storage

YouTube
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com
Comment: Some old home movies from when the kids were young.

Subscriptions

Netflix
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com
Neon
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com
Lightbox
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com
NZHerald
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com
Kindle
Username joe_smith64@gmail.com