One of the first things you need to do before writing a will is to list your assets. Your home, money, investments, car, the dog, the cat… the list goes on. But spare a thought for your online or digital assets, too.
What do you have on Facebook, or Gmail? Where do you keep your digital photographs or videos? What about websites that may have money in them, like Amazon? Not to mention financial, insurance, retail or social media accounts you access routinely on your computer or smartphone.
Your family will need to get to grips with your affairs after your death, so they will need access to financial and other information. Some of this is very likely stored on your computer, so they should be able to get to it, assuming they have your password. But it’s worth playing safe and having a back up plan, just in case it gets stolen or hacked.
Your online accounts are a different matter. Your family will probably not even know about all the accounts you have, let alone have access. Rather than letting them helplessly second-guess your passwords, there are a number of steps you can take to hand over control when the time comes. Some also have the option of deleting the account on your death.
Many of us run so much of our lives online that it can feel overwhelming getting to grips with your digital assets. The headings below will help you make a start:
- Financial information
- E-mail, contacts and calendar
- Social media
- Personal and sentimental items
- Digital items that may have a value, now or in the future
- Hardware that requires passwords or codes, eg phones, tablets
Make a note of the financial services you use. This may include bank and building society accounts, mortgage, investments, pensions, loans, hire purchase agreements, insurance, telephone and utility accounts. If you can’t bring them all to mind, look through your bank or credit card statements.
You’ll need to make a list of passwords, so you could set up a code, eg financial-doc1 for bank account details, and store the passwords in a separate document. Given the importance of keeping this safe, it might be a good idea to lock the document even while you’re working on it. How you do this will depend on your version of Word, but File/Info/Protect Document works for later versions.
Your family will very likely need your correspondence to sort out your estate, so that means giving them access to email. You may have a number of email accounts, so write down which ones you use, again, storing the passwords separately.
Contacts and calendar
Many people have swapped their old address books or appointment diaries for their online equivalents, such as Outlook, or Google Calendar or Contacts. Your family could be badly stuck if they can’t access this information after your death.
If you’re a Gmail user, Google’s Inactive Account Manager can help. You can set it up to allow your family access to your email and other Google products if your account has not been used for a number of months. You specify who should be contacted, and when, and enter their email and phone number. You don’t need to tell them you’ve done so. Google also gives you the opportunity to delete your account at this stage. The system will alert you first – just in case – and also send you a six-monthly reminder. Remember that you will need to keep your contacts’ emails up to date for this to work.
If you’re a Yahoo user, you will need to make other arrangements. Yahoo will not give access to a person’s family after their death at the time of writing, so if you want someone to have access, you will need to arrange for them to have your sign-in details.
Most of us are on Facebook and have accounts on many other networks, including LinkedIn and Twitter. Make a note of all the ones you use that you want kept, or information retained.
Again, some have a way of enabling your relatives to gain access to your accounts after you have passed on. Facebook will remove accounts of deceased persons on request, once it has a death certificate or a document such as a power of attorney. You can also get your page memorialised, so when the time comes your family and friends can post tributes to you.
Personal and sentimental items
These might include photos, videos, and music files, which you would want your family to keep after you’ve gone. These may be stored on social media, including Flickr or similar, or on file-sharing sites like Dropbox or Google Docs. Make a note of which platforms you use, and for what, and add the passwords to your document.
Ideally, you should get an external hard drive and back up all your most precious digital files to it. Make sure your family knows you’ve done this, and where you’ve put it.
Your list of digital assets won’t include such items as ebooks, or apps or music on your iTunes account. Due to digital rights, you don’t actually own these – even though you paid for them. However Apple does offer a Family Sharing feature, which is good for up to six people.
Digital assets that may have a value, now or in the future
Some of your digital assets have monetary value. These would include accounts with money stored in them, for example credit on an Amazon or PayPal account.
But there are very many other accounts which could have a value, either now, or in the future. A lot of this will depend on you, and your online life. You may be an online gamer, or gambler, and have resources that are worth money.
If you have your own website, the domain name may be valuable. It will also need to be renewed annually, so you will need to make provision for this if you want the site to be kept. The same applies to any other site you subscribe to.
If you have a business, your client list, accounts and other intellectual property are obviously of value. You may have Bitcoins or other types of virtual currency.
Again, keep a log of what you own, and keep the passwords separately.
Hardware that requires passwords or key codes, eg phones, tablets
Your tablet or smartphone is of very little use to anyone without a key code to get into it. Again, make a list and keep the passwords, key codes or pattern locks elsewhere.
Passwords are of course, the key to everything, and it’s worth getting them right. It’s recommended to include letters, numbers, upper and lower case and punctuation in your passwords. However tempting is it to use ‘password,’ this isn’t good enough.
When you’re listing them, don’t forget to make a note of any numerical codes or pattern locks you might use for keypads. You might jot down, ‘square shape clockwise starting top left’, or ‘reverse Z shape’, for instance.
As soon as you start on your passwords document, you will need to keep it very safe indeed. If you’re writing it on your computer, you might password-protect the document, though of course, you’ll have to give someone else the password at some stage. Once it’s prepared, think of a safe place to store it. One option would be to print it and keep it in a sealed envelope with your will. You might include a USB stick as well.
Alternatively, if you’re a Google user, you could put it in Google Docs and make use of the Inactive Account Manager detailed above. The only down side is that if you’ve set this up for six months after your death, this may not be soon enough for family members sorting out your financial affairs.
There are also password management companies that will handle this information, though there is a danger that they will go out of business or change hands.
Bear in mind this document will go out of date in no time. Most of us need to change our passwords regularly, and with very good reason. So once you’ve put your document together, make a note to review it, say every six months or so.