When TV and movie stars die, their work lives on – if they're lucky, indefinitely, in reruns. When the non-famous go, their work often endures, too – in less-glamorous, arguably more private ways.
You've probably noticed. Perhaps a distant colleague passes on, or worse, a close family member, and then a few days or weeks later, a social media site like Facebook suggests you wish him or her a happy birthday – or LinkedIn suggests you two finally connect. It kind of begs the question: While we often think about our bank accounts and who should get the homestead or baseball card collection before we go, shouldn't we consider our digital assets as well?
In a word: probably. It depends how active your life is online. Robert Perez, a Magnolia, Texas-based on-call attorney for Rocket Lawyer, an online legal service, says the "worst-case scenario" of doing nothing is "where someone invests substantial resources into digital assets ... but all of these go into eternal limbo when the owner dies and benefits no one – all because no one else had the means to access them – or even know they existed."
[Read: The Dangers of DIY Estate Planning.]
So if you haven't really thought about checking out permanently (and who wants to think about that?) here are some things to consider about your digital afterlife.
Assign a digital executor. This can be the person in charge of your estate, or it may be someone different. "Preferably someone tech-savvy," Perez urges.
He continues: "Once you have decided on a digital executor, you need to provide him/her with a complete inventory of digital assets, including accounts, login IDs and password information, upon your death. Obviously this information should be stored in a secure location, to prevent the 'bad guys' from gaining access to it." (More on the best places to store passwords later.)
Perez has a warning for anyone thinking of going this route. "Whatever you do," he says, "don't include password information in your will itself, as it becomes a public record when it is admitted to probate."
Some decisions you'll want to make. If you're an avid Facebook user, decide what should be done with your Facebook account. Many people turn their loved one's Facebook page into a memorial for them, where people can comment on their wall and share anecdotes. (Verified immediate family members can also request removal of the account.) Twitter and LinkedIn have pages where people can go to get their loved one's accounts shut down, and as you'd expect, you need proof of the person's death. With Twitter, for example, you'll need a copy of the death certificate and a copy of your own government-issued ID.
Music is a significant financial outlay for some people. If you've sunk a lot of money into an iTunes account, you can't pass on the downloads, but you can leave behind the gadgets the iTunes songs are on, and make sure whomever you're leaving them to has the password. E-books aren't transferable, either – you can't split up the collection and will your gardening e-books to your cousin and your mystery e-books to your daughter – but a loved one can inherit your Amazon.com account along with the username and password.
Photos are also an important consideration. Those alone might be your reason for documenting your digital assets and making sure a password is provided to a loved one for various sites.
Where to keep your usernames and passwords. Your options are becoming more and more diverse. Perez likes eWallet, a generic term for a computer software application that allows consumers to pay for purchases electronically and has a password manager and secure storage database. He also likes online safe deposit boxes, including Legacy Locker and SecureSafe. "This software enables you to store all of your login and password information in one place, so that you only need to remember a single master password to access your accounts," he says. "If you leave the location of this data file and master password in a secure location for your digital executor or other trusted person to retrieve, they should be able to access all of your accounts without difficulty."