Estate Planning should now include planning for your digital legacy. In this post, we focus on how to define what you would like your digital legacy to be. This process also requires balancing the privacy of those with whom you’ve corresponded and shared against your desire to preserve your memories. Here are some tips on how to determine what to preserve and what to let fade:

Consider the variety of digital accounts you have: It can quickly get overwhelming to create a list of the many apps and services you use in the course of your “always on” life. But even a quick sampling of social media, cloud storage, and communication services easily highlights the complications of a one-size-fits-all rule. Rather than granting blanket access, leave detailed instructions for various accounts – many providers have in-suite tools to help you share your wishes specifically and directly.

One account may have many kinds of information: Within one service or application, a user might prefer to leave some records and not others. For example, wanting to bequeath emails but not instant message conversations. Some services allow you to make this designation through their own tools (Google’s Inactive Account Manager), but for others, you could consider organizing material into folders based on what is truly private, so that you can clearly designate to a loved one what they are not welcome to review. Remember to delete files and information that is no longer needed as well.

Your digital assets also contain information about other people: Remember that your emails include communications with people who will survive you. It may be important to you to consider their privacy when deciding whom to give access to your account. In particular, the searchability of digital correspondence makes it much easier to target and unearth specific correspondence than was possible in physical records. Choosing someone you trust, and limiting access to the accounts you feel are absolutely pivotal, is a classic solution that never goes out of style.

Consider how your loved ones may want to use your accounts: Each family grieves in its own way—some communities seek solace publicly, and for others grief is a very private experience. Some traditions involve memorializing ancestors as part of holidays, and others are customs of quiet remembrance. Whatever your beliefs, you can do your best to express them through your digital estate. Some providers have nuanced tools that can help you express your wishes. For example, Facebook gives you the option of allowing others to visit and continue to view your profile as it was on the day of your death, or to designate your account for deletion when it is memorialized. You can also designate a Legacy Contact who may add a note to the profile, change the profile or cover photos, accept or decline new friend requests, and (if the user permits it via a separate option) download an archive of what the deceased person shared on Facebook.

Confidential communications and responsibilities: if you are in a position of trust in your profession or volunteer activities (clergy, counselor, AA sponsor, etc.), separate communications and documents related to these activities into a locked folder or account that does not convey at your death. This will help preserve these confidential communications.

I’ll be sharing more on managing your digital assets and estate planning in the months to come. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please contact me at [email protected]