Managing Digital Assets

Taking care of online accounts after a death

As sci-fi as it sounds, now days most of us have two lives – our real life and our online life. There’s lots of information out there about how to handle the details of our loved one’s real life after they’re gone, but when it comes to making arrangements in the digital world, there’s no solid protocol. This adds an extra layer of complexity to the grieving and adjustment process for us when we lose someone.

Taking care of online accounts after a death

The nice thing about physical files, even the stacks of papers they left all over the office, is that they’re not password protected. We can just open a drawer, take them out and figure out what to do with them. If there’s a key, we probably know where to find it and we don’t have to worry about strangers getting a hold of the information contained in them. Not so for online data. In many cases, we don’t even know where our loved one has stored important legal or financial documents, let alone the passwords for all these secure sites (which should all be different if they’ve been careful to protect their information).

This makes the task of organizing our loved one’s digital life seem intimidating and overwhelming. But just like tidying up the house after they’re gone, tidying up their digital world can go smoothly if we take it one step at a time.

Here are some practical moves we can make to get our loved one’s digital estate sorted out after their death:

 

Start with Categories

Just as we did with making sense of the physical artifacts our loved one left behind, we can do the same with their digital things. Some of the online tools our loved one may have used, or digital details that may need tending to include:

– Finances – personal and business, including bank and bookkeeping accounts/software such as Freshbooks, Quicken or the like

– Investments and investment software

– Legal or other data protection services like LegalZoom

– Online storage or backup sites like Dropbox or Google Drive for pictures and other files

– Online billing accounts like Paypal, Stripe, etc.

– Websites/domains/CRMs and any associated ecommerce sites if they sold things online

– Intellectual property such as copyrighted materials our loved one may have published

– Project management software or online calendars (these might help tell us about timelines for things like bills and loose ends that need tying up)

– Bill pay for things like insurance, credit cards, utilities and internet service providers

– Email

 

Is it in their will?

Ideally, instructions for accessing many of these online assets where sensitive information is kept will be in our loved one’s will, or the executor handling their affairs will have some helpful direction. They may even have used a service like Entrusted or Legacy Locker, online services that act as a sort of digital will, to execute their online wishes when they’re gone and manage their digital estate. If our spouse set up a service like this, and actually used it, it will be very helpful in the process of sorting through their digital lives.

 

Check with relevant parties like accountants, bookkeepers, business partners, bankers and brokers

Most times, the people who worked with our loved one want to help us get these details sorted out, so we don’t need to be shy in approaching them to help us do so. If we need to access our lost one’s accounts or data, these are the most likely parties to have this information. If there are security issues around things like business accounts, or we feel like someone’s not being totally honest with us, we can seek the counsel of a lawyer or friend familiar with estate management.

 

Reset passwords so we can access in the future

Instead of trying to remember all the passwords our loved one used, it’s better to reset passwords to sites and services we’ll need to access often with our own. Internet and cable providers, energy bills, even websites if we plan to keep them up will be visited often, so we should make the password something we’ll remember and consider using a service like Lastpass in case we have a memory lapse (very common during the grieving process).

 

Seek Legal Counsel

We never realize how much stuff is attached to us until we have to organize someone else’s stuff. It’s a lot to handle, and no one person should have to do it alone. There are people whose job it is to help us with these things. The executors of our loved one’s will should be able to help us with many of these details, or help connect us with someone who can. Do we have any family or friends who are lawyers and may have some advice to offer?

 

It’s going to work out

Nothing’s going to hit the fan over night, so we don’t need to fret about these digital details. We need to give ourselves time to do the most important things first, and that is to take care of ourselves. When the initial chaos is over and we have a little bit of breathing room, it’s the perfect time to ask a trusted friend to sit down with us and help us think through some of these things. Because we’re not alone, and this will all work out just fine.


Further suggested TrueSolace reading: Creating a Private Facebook Group for Coordinating Family