What happens to your digital legacy after you pass away?

March 31, 2023

A guide for preserving your personal data and digital legacy.

A couple planning their digital legacy 
The evolution of the digital age has brought us more than new apps and exciting trends. We now live in a world where, just like with material items in your physical home, you have likely accumulated many online assets attached to your digital legacy.

With this legacy comes a responsibility to manage your digital affairs while estate planning as you would with physical property. However, estate laws haven’t been able to keep up with the rapid evolution of technology, which means you’ll have to make a plan that works best for you on your own.

Many of your digital assets will be password protected, hosted by private corporations, or hard to access without you. If you don’t do the planning, your assets will be subject to the terms and conditions of various websites and networks, and companies. That's why today, we'll take a closer look and discuss how you can manage your digital legacy and better control the digital footprint you leave behind. 

What is a digital legacy?

According to the Digital Legacy Association, a digital legacy is the digital information available about someone following their death. This legacy includes your social media profiles, interactions you’ve had and things you’ve created online, photos, videos, blogs, gaming, and more. You may not consider your online presence a digital life that has amassed digital property. But everything from memorable photos in the cloud to online bank accounts is part of a legacy that should be protected, so it’s not lost forever.

What is digital legacy planning?

Digital legacy planning allows you to choose how to manage your online presence and assets after your death. It’s the modern addition to your estate planning, where you provide information about your accounts and how you’d like your assets to be divided.

If estate planning and digital legacy planning are part of the same process, you may wonder why you can’t follow insurance and estate planning laws as usual. The simple truth is that we don’t own most of our digital accounts. Social media accounts, domain names, email accounts, and the like are licensed to us via the contracts we agree to when we sign up. When you die, the contract is over, and the company follows its procedures to handle your account, whereas you make the decisions with tangible assets.

What are your digital assets?

Your digital assets are anything that’s not in a tangible, physical form. These include:
  • Social networks, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn
  • Blogs and licensed domain names
  • Your presence in online communities or listservs
  • Music, photos, gaming assets, or other files that you store online
  • Seller's accounts on Amazon, eBay, or Etsy
  • Access to financial accounts or utilities
  • Email accounts
  • Subscription services like Netflix

Digital legacy planning

With the quickly growing digital landscape, estate and inheritance laws haven’t entirely caught up with what we all need. That’s why when you have conversations with your friends and family members about your estate, addressing digital estate planning is the best practice. When you appoint your executor or the person responsible for fulfilling your wishes when you’re deceased, make sure they know your digital property will also need managing.

When preparing your instructions for your executor or trustee, consider adding these three steps to your process:
  • Review the Terms of Use/Terms of Service of the platforms you use. Many of us overlook them in favor of a quick sign-up, but referring back to them will give you a legal understanding of your rights. If you have questions, reach out to the service provider’s help center.
  • Add language to your will/trust to specify your wishes for your digital accounts. Especially because laws around digital assets are in flux, it’s an excellent precaution to go ahead and make your wishes known so your executor has legal tools to fulfill your wishes.
  • Check for changes to your state laws about digital assets and terms of use. Companies also update their terms of use, sometimes several times a year, and will notify users when they do. Make sure to check the updates for anything that may affect your instructions.

Leaving instructions for your digital legacy

The easiest way to do this is by leaving instructions and login information in a letter with your estate planning documents. A straightforward letter isn’t a legally binding document, which means you can write it in a word processor. You’ll want details on accessing your online accounts and what to do with them. You can organize your login information by making a spreadsheet or giving your executor access to a password manager.

Take note of all of your accounts and decide which ones you want to delete and which ones may need to be managed after your death. It’s easy to forget how many accounts you signed up for in the first place, so check the admin area of your Google, Microsoft, or other email accounts to see all the apps linked to you. If you signed up using a Twitter or Facebook account, the social media platforms also have the option to see how many accounts are linked in their settings. Checking your saved passwords or using a third-party app like JustDelete.Me can also show you all of your accounts.

Once you have your list of digital accounts, begin thinking about the goal you have for them. Below is a guide to common digital assets and how to best access them in the event of your death. Consider starting here as you write your instructions.

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social networks

Many of us have accounts with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, or LinkedIn— either all of them or a mix. Facebook allows you to set up a legacy contact to manage your memorialized account. Keep in mind that their access is limited. They can’t log in to the account, read messages, or add or remove friends.

Another option is to leave your login information for these accounts and let a trusted person make a last post, delete certain things, or change ownership by updating the settings. Otherwise, your executor can reach out to the help centers of these social media platforms with needed information, often including a death certificate of the deceased person. Note, unless the platform has a separate policy, this action will let them know to delete the account, not manage it further.

Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, or other email accounts

Similar to social media networks, the option that gives your executor the most freedom to carry out your wishes is by leaving your login information and access to devices linked to your two-step verification for them. Make sure they also have access to your other devices for two-step verification. They will then be able to send, delete, or print any email interactions or information you’d like to keep before the email account expires due to there being an inactive account manager.

Check your company's policy if you have an email with your work. You’ll want to find a way for your executor to manage your email before the company archives or deletes it.

Blogs and licensed domain names

If you own a blog, you can leave details for your executor to leave a message for your readers before deleting, transferring ownership, or archiving the blog content. For licensed domain names, note who will be taking over the domain if you want to transfer it so your executor can contact them. Otherwise, the license can be terminated or simply not renewed.

Online communities

If you are active in any online communities like a listserv or book club, you may want someone to tell the group leader of your death and potentially leave them a final message.

Photos, music libraries, movies, and other files

Online storage expires, and access will be lost according to the service provider’s policies, so you’ll want to detail how to access these files before time runs out.

Unlike social media, you own some digital files, like the photos you have taken and the music you have paid for. Because of this, you can put them in your will or living trust to leave them with your loved ones. You’ll want to describe what the files and photos are and where they are located. If you have an external hard drive or USB drive, you can save these files there and pass the storage device along.

Seller's accounts

It’s common to own a completely online business these days that operates through a storefront on Amazon, Etsy, or eBay. Unfortunately, transferring your account is against most company policies, so it’s likely your executor will need access to delete your storefront. If you’d like someone to take over the account, give them the details they need to start a new account. If you sell physical products, you will be able to put these in your will or trust along with other property. You’ll also want to give access to your customers’ funds if they are in Paypal, Stripe, or an online bank.

Financial accounts and utilities

Financial accounts are likely top of mind when it comes to your digital legacy. While your will or trust details who will be getting the contents of your accounts, you’ll still want to leave details on how to access these online accounts. You’ll also want to detail which bills to pay and how. While making your list, consider starting with this list:
  • Mortgage
  • Life Insurance
  • Retirement Accounts
  • Checking and Savings Accounts
  • Gas, Electric, Water, Phone, Cable, and Other Bills
  • Tax Preparation Services

Cryptocurrency and NFTs

Cryptocurrencies are typically transferable to your heirs, but you’ll want to bring in your estate planning attorney to review user agreements and find the best way to do this. For non-fungible tokens (NFTs), you own a unique digital file heavily secured in a digital lockbox and recorded in a digital ledger called a blockchain. Cryptocurrency and NFTs require a distinct password or access key that cannot be reset. If you don’t have these, you can lose access forever. Make sure to tell your executor or trustee what they need to know.

Estate planning: Beyond your digital legacy

Legacy planning is never an easy thing to think about. It's a stark reminder that our time here is limited and that sooner or later, we pass on. But as uncomfortable as it can be, it's absolutely essential for those loved ones we leave behind. 

Everyone has different needs based on their individual circumstances, but legacy planning (also called "estate planning") can be complex; your digital legacy is just the beginning. If you're looking into or just beginning the process of legacy planning, make sure that you consult a legal professional to guide you through the process. 

Many people also find that life insurance can play an important role within their end of life preparations and estate planning, so consult your insurance agent to learn what options might be available for your specific needs. 

Planning your digital legacy is a meaningful process that allows you to choose how you want your digital footprint secured, not a social media platform or email server. Take time to go through your personal data and add your digital legacy to your estate planning conversations.

Digital photo album as part of a digital legacy

To learn how life insurance can help give you and your loved ones security and peace of mind, request a free online quote here, or contact Germania Life at 1-800-392-2202 ext. 2060, glife@germaniainsurance.com.

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

What do you want to read more about? For suggestions, questions, or content-related inquiries, contact us at content@germaniainsurance.com!

Roadside Assistance

We’re here for you, 24/7/365.


File a Claim

File a claim online, by phone or by contacting your agent.


Find An Agent

Find a Repair Shop