Concerned about your digital afterlife?
How can you preserve your digital archive?
Are digital legacies hard to keep alive?
The Importance of a Digital Legacy
Years ago, people might have worried about being forgotten after their death. Oftentimes, the only thing left behind was an oral history and a few mementos or treasured objects. But today, with the continuous advancement of digital technology, it’s nearly impossible not to leave a trace behind. For some, there can be too many things to catalog when considering digital preservation. Additionally, there are many challenges when preserving a digital legacy.
Your digital legacy consists of anything you do online. So, if you have a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google Plus or Instagram account, you have already started to create a digital legacy. If you like, comment or post on someone else’s social media, that is also part of your digital legacy. And if you appear in any online directories or online searches, these web pages become part of your digital story as well.
Your digital legacy consists of a variety of online sources.
- Social media
- Cloud services
- Online publications
- Social media profiles
- Gaming profiles
- Messaging apps
- Online interactions
- Online banking / billing
- Investment accounts
- Health records
- Subscription services
- iTunes library
- And more!
Each digital asset is also contained on the devices you use.
- Cell phones
- Desktop computers
- Hard drives
- Cloud-based storage
- And more!
Why Preserve Your Digital Legacy?
Our continuing presence in digital spaces is changing the way we handle our death arrangements. Your digital assets and digital legacy may be owned by you, your beneficiaries, and the online services you use. So, just as you prepare for your death well in advance by making sure your family members are taken care of, you should also take the time to include your digital inheritance along with your estate planning. Take the time to read the end-of-life policies for each of your social media services.
You’ll want to ensure that someone you trust oversees your digital assets. In your succession planning, consider what will be necessary to make things easier for family members and estate executors to prevent identity theft and losses of your digital estate and data. In addition, you’ll want to avoid losing your story and prevent any unwanted secrets from being revealed.
As we have continued to make social media a part of our everyday lives, it has become increasingly important to create a social media will along with other end-of-life documents. A social media will should include directions about what you want to happen to your accounts after you are gone. Do you want them to remain open? If so, who should control them and have access to the usernames and passwords. Do you want your accounts to be closed? In that case, you’ll need to provide instructions about who should handle that and what you want them to do with the information (posts, profiles, etc.) on those accounts.
How to Create Your Digital Legacy
Where do your memories and stories live? For many of us, we’re adding to them every day on line. How will you pass you stories onto other family members? Are you in control of your digital assets?
Creating a digital legacy is an essential part of your life story. And it’s a newer problem that many people have not yet considered. If you haven’t put any thought into your own digital legacy or that of your loved ones, it’s time that you do.
- Start by making a list of all of your online accounts along with the usernames and passwords as well as any other essential information. Decide what you want to happen to these accounts when you are gone. Then select a digital executor who will handle all of the necessary arrangements. You may also want to select a backup, just in case you and your digital executor should die together.
- Be sure your digital executor is aware of their responsibilities and your wishes. Put your wishes and all instructions in writing. You don’t have to provide your digital executor with all of your digital information and logins at this time. But you may want to store the information in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box, and let them know where to find it.
- Update your list once a month. Passwords change. Logins change. Emails change. So, it’s important that you don’t leave outdated information to your surviving family members.
- You may wish to take care of your digital arrangements in advance (close accounts or save them elsewhere) so that your family members aren’t left with the task.
It’s important to note that current U.S. law predates the rise of the internet.
In 1986, Congress passed a law forbidding consumer electronic-communications companies from disclosing content without its owner's consent or a government order like a police investigation. Courts and companies have largely interpreted the wording to mean that families can't force companies to let them access the deceased's data or their accounts.
With many social media accounts, once you pass away, social media service providers are not obligated to keep your account open or divulge the access information to your loved ones. Facebook is said to have millions of deceased users but can’t give family members access. In fact, in 2011 it was estimated that approximately 1.78 million Facebook users were expected to die worldwide, with about 480,000 of those living in the U.S.
If an account is inactive, a service will most likely delete it. Think of how much information would be lost to your loved ones. And even though they could access your account and take screen shots, that would be a lengthy, taxing process. So, it’s important that you take steps to preserve your digital legacy before your death.
Quite often, when you download assets, such as books and songs, you don’t own the rights to that property. According to user terms, most services like this offer the ability to view, listen to, and read the content, etc. for the user’s lifetime, at which point the license expires and the account is closed.
For the record, Facebook now allows you to select a Legacy Contact who would manage your account after your death. However, many people still don’t know about this feature.
Adding to Your Digital Legacy
You can add to your legacy by digitizing paper records and other items. You may want to convert old family videos to DVD format. And as newer technologies develop, you may want to update your DVDs at that time.
You can also scan other documents and save them online so that they are saved digitally. This prevents situations where original documents are destroyed or lost and are difficult to recover. You may want to scan and digitize the following items.
- Birth records
- Death records
- Marriage records
- Graduation degrees
- Financial information
- Family photos
- Written accounts / journals
- School records
- Employment records
- Life lessons
- Community archives
- Video diary
- Legacy letter
- Other important documents
Benefits of Organizing Your Digital Legacy Now
If you wrote your own obituary today, what would you want it to say? By organizing your digital legacy now, you are doing more than providing a keepsake digital record of your life. You are preserving your family history and cultural heritage. You are leaving memories behind and providing material to help you or your loved ones write an obituary for you. Your loved ones can also use this material to write a eulogy, know what music to play at your funeral or plan a celebration of your life.
Your digital collection may help your family members through the grieving process once you are gone. And it can be a gift to future generations, so that they may know where they came from and where their ancestors were from.
In addition, creating digital artifacts can help a loved one who is experiencing a life-threatening illness, is in palliative care or is suffering from involuntary memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Any digital content of family memories can be used to spark memory and stimulate conversation and brain activity.
Preserving Your Digital Legacy with Lastly
Lastly.com is a great tool to help in preserving your digital legacy. Lastly.com provides a LifeReviewTM with easy questions to help create your LifeStoryTM and leave a legacy behind. You can upload photos, audio, and video to store safely online. And you can also add stories to go with each of these items so that your loved ones will know what happened and when, and why it’s important to their own history.
Lastly.com also provides additional features that help you build a life timeline as well as a family tree and an interactive map of all of the places you have both lived and visited. With Lastly.com, saving and storing digital content is easy, safe, and secure. And you can also easily designate someone to manage your Lastly.com account when you are gone.
If you’re interested in preserving your digital memories online, try us today. Sign up for an account and start saving your memories!