Do you have any idea how much “digital exhaust” you are emitting? If you have no idea because you have never heard of the like, don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Digital exhaust is a new term tech companies have come up with to describe the digital assets and output of the average person.
So much of our lives are connected to the digital world that we leave a trail of accounts and data in our wake. This is our digital exhaust. And just like the exhaust from your car’s tailpipe, it needs cleaned up or it is going to cause some problems in the years ahead.
There are two main reasons why it is important to keep close tabs on your digital exhaust: protecting your identity while you are alive, and respecting your wishes and preserving your memory after you are gone.
First of all, not keeping track of the exhaust you are creating puts you at risk of having your identity stolen. Sharing your personal information with a variety of companies is unavoidable, but leaving that information out there is something we should all be more mindful of. We advise our clients to keep a list of digital accounts they open, and to close accounts that they are no longer using.
Creating a list of digital accounts will also be helpful for your estate administrator if you want them to do anything with your digital assets after your death. This is becoming a more common concern as more people with social media accounts pass away. Many of our clients have social media accounts, and most have strong feelings about what they would like to happen to them after they are gone.
Aside from keeping a list of accounts, there are several things you can do to make it easier for your estate administrator to manage your digital assets.
First, you can make yourself aware of what the companies you do business with do with all your data. This is important while you are alive as well because a lot of the digital exhaust you emit is stuff you would consider very private information.
Did you know that Apple’s terms of service agreement terminates all rights at the time of death? This means apps, music, films, and other files aren’t transferrable to a new user. This is probably a good thing if you wouldn’t want others to know what you have been watching and listening to, but if you are sharing your account with someone else, they are going to be pretty upset if they are locked out of the account. In order to share an account, both people need to know the Apple ID and account password, and have access to the associated email address and credit card in order to keep using it.
Second, you can take advantage of the options some companies give you to safeguard your account and make plans for your digital afterlife.
Unlike Apple, Facebook’s accounts live on after death. If you don’t want your account to outlive you, you can delegate the power to shut it down or turn it into a memorial page to a friend or family member. This is actually an important area of the account settings to check out even if you aren’t contemplating your mortality because you can set up a few trusted contacts that Facebook can work with to try and get you back into your account if you are ever locked out or hacked.
In today’s world, no estate plan should be considered complete unless digital assets and digital exhaust are dealt with. Anyone who leaves these important aspects of their life out of their estate plan is leaving a mess for others to clean up.