When it comes to end-of-life preparations, I think Chris and I have done a good job. (Wills, trusts, insurance policies, powers-of-attorney, memorial worship services, etc.) One vexing task remains, though: What to do about all the aspects of our estate that are primarily digital?
Some writers have dubbed this phenomenon “digital inheritance”, a legacy that may present a problem for those who follow us. At the time of our deaths, legally required digital matters—e.g., ending Social Security coverage, transferring ownership—will surface quickly. But our deaths will not necessarily end our digital existences, intellectual property rights, or the artifacts of our lifestyle that live primarily in computer memories. It’s likely that our heirs will have to consider questions like the following:
When and how to…
- Access our digital accounts.
- Preserve necessary personal records in databases. (E.g., medical, IRS, financial )
- Mothball our professional and personal writings.
- Identify and protect perhaps-unknown digital agreements or contracts.
- Protect our heirs from someone falsely assuming our identities after we’re deceased.
- Gather, sort and store important computer files.
- Delete our information from communication and social media accounts.
- Clear identifying information, preferences and apps from cellphones and computers.
- Guard against digital pirates who might prey on our heirs.
- Find legal or financial experts who are up-to-date about digital inheritances.
We won’t be around to engage questions like these, so they will present a perhaps-difficult set of tasks for our children. I’m hopeful that reliable and capable digital inheritance service providers will soon emerge, offering answers to these questions as well as protection against as-yet-unknown legal challenges—e.g., copyright renewal or privacy rights. Right now, though, a sensible first step might be to doublecheck our end-of-life documents with digital inheritances in mind.
That seems like a good thing to do!
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