People use their smartphones to take photos in Paris, France, Oct. 1, 2017. CNS photo/Charles Platiau, Reuters

An executor must deal with digital footprint

  • November 6, 2017
In this digital age, it is the rare person who does not have some form of digital footprint. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others are part of everyday life for most people.

It has led to a growing challenge, one that few consider: what to do with the digital footprint that a loved one has left behind when they have passed away. You may be gone, but for many, it’s the one part of you that remains.

It seems like it would be a simple issue to deal with, but as people are starting to find out, nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider what you have on your digital footprint. Your Facebook account has so many details of your daily life and personal history; your email account(s) contains so much of your personal and business communications; you are probably like the majority of the modern person and do your banking online. And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

Now you’re gone. Do you want your heirs snooping around in virtual territory you would rather remain private? And your accounts, your Facebook, how will they be wrapped up? Even the books and music you have downloaded — you may think that you own them, but you actually don’t; you have merely purchased a licence allowing you to listen, watch or read that material. Upon your death, that licence expires.

Modern issues — or headaches — in an online world.

This is where a digital Will can come into play. It’s not mainstream yet, but is gaining acceptance and more people are taking advantage.

John Romano and Evan Carroll are editors of The Digital Beyond, a website to help people plan what happens to their online content after they die. One thing they stress is making sure you name a digital executor.

“It’s very possible that the person who’s handling your estate may not be the person who has the technical understanding to take care of your digital things,” said Romano. “And there needs to be an important distinction there.”

The executor named in your Will has to settle all matters relating to one’s life and wiping out your digital footprint is one more item to add to the list.

You will need to be specific with your instructions. Key to this is having a list of all the websites and login credentials for which the executor will have to take action.

“It doesn’t have to be 100 per cent exhaustive,” said Romano. “Your inventory is just a list: the name of the object and ways to access that account and your wishes for it.”

Carroll suggests having a short talk with someone you trust about your online legacy.

“It’s a five-minute conversation. Just say, ‘Listen, just so you know, I put my passwords here and this is where I store them and these are my accounts, just make sure you take care of those,’ ” said Carroll.

As for accounts like Facebook, some are easier to delete than others. There is no template that each service provider follows, which can make things confusing. Things will go much easier with a death certificate.

Facebook will even let you set up a memorialized account to remember the deceased. The timeline is maintained and friends and families can still post comments and photos, though accounts will not appear as friend suggestions and birthday reminders will not be sent out.

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