At a recent technology event I attended on the Internet of Things, it amazed me how people’s lives will be touched in the future by ‘smart’ systems at home, in the car and on the go. As technology continues to gravitate toward the cloud and social networking, it’s important to look at how your digital property is distributed at the time of your death.

What is digital property?

Digital property includes:Closed lock on digital background

  • Computing devices (smartphones, eBook readers, computers, etc.)
  • Data storage devices
  • Electronically stored information
  • User accounts (including email, social networking sites, web blogs, online gaming, etc.)
  • Domain names
  • Intellectual property rights in digital property

Why does digital property matter?

Digital property is extremely personal and sentimental – this is where many now store pictures, videos and their most prized projects and conversations. Digital property can also be financially valuable – creating worlds or real estate in online games, web presence through blogs and social media, etc.

When privacy laws conflict with helping your family gather pictures and prized possessions from your best and last moments, it can cause enormous stress on your family. 

What can I do to protect the information?

Be proactive – “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

  • Regularly back up and download your electronically stored digital property to external media.
  • Prepare a list of your digital property, where you keep it, and any user names and/or passwords attached to the property. Consider housing this information in LastPass or a similar secure location.
  • Consider making this list accessible via web-based services. These services allow you to authorize individuals in advance who can ‘unlock’ the information and in what event (death, incapacitation, etc.) Examples of web-based services include AssetLock, EstateMap, Deathswitch and
  • Add specific amendments to your last will and testament or durable power of attorney that expressly authorize the release of your electronically stored information to specific individuals.

We often don’t think about digital property until it’s too late. For example, some social media sites won’t allow us to download a family member’s data after that family member passes away. The best prevention is knowing what digital property you have, which property you want others to be able to access and best practices on how to make it available at the time of need.