It’s important that you have a plan to erase your digital footprint before you die. Photo from Unsplash

Digital footprints can haunt your estate

  • October 31, 2018

Eric Bundgard has some sage advice for everyone: you know death is a reality we will all face, so be prepared for when it occurs.

“Be proactive when you are alive in planning for when you are dead,” said Bundgard, and that means having an appropriate Will.

By appropriate, the partner at the Toronto law firm Evensong Bundgard LLP means having a Will that is up to date and in tune with our times. That includes provisions for wiping out your digital footprint.

In our technological age, it is the rare person who does not have some sort of digital footprint. Almost everyone has a social media account on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, online shopping is on the rise and Internet banking is the norm for most people. 

That leaves a lot of your personal and financial information in the hands of others. And out there for people with nefarious intent who will not hesitate to steal your identity, take out credit cards or health cards under your name and run up a large tab on you that your loved ones will be forced to deal with after you are gone. 

“There’s a danger lurking out there that people who know how to do that and are unscrupulous will steal identities, steal information, utilize it to try and make money,” said Bundgard. 

In years past, enterprising thieves would scan the obituaries to target the recently deceased and their loved ones, said Bundgard. Today’s online world has opened up a slew of new channels for the opportunistic criminal. Chief among them is identity theft, which seems almost constantly in the news, with both large companies and individuals being victimized.

It all shows the importance of staying on top of your digital presence and having a plan in place to erase it once you have passed away, said Bundgard.

It’s easier than it sounds for those who grapple with online and technological realities, and a few small steps will save your loved ones grief in a time of mourning. In essence, it’s not much different from the pre-Internet era. Stay on top of your business and assets and have a plan for them when you are gone. You just need “a little more savvy” in this age, said Bundgard.

“When you are alive, ensure you reduce the clutter in your online presence,” he said.

That means if you are in failing health and have a PayPal account, close it. Your social media accounts should also be deleted, though some are easier to do than others.

A digital Will is an option. It’s not mainstream yet, but more and more people are taking advantage of them. John Romano and Evan Carroll, editors of The Digital Beyond website, say it is a good idea to have a digital executor because the person handling your estate may not have the technical understanding to take care of the digital aspects of your life. 

And be specific in your instructions. It’s a good idea to have a talk with your executor or someone you trust about your online legacy and let them know of your accounts and the passwords and user names to access them. A line should be inserted in your will affirming an executor can use and access these passwords. 

Make it easy, said Bundgard, for your power of attorney to “slip into your shoes and represent your interests in shutting down these accounts.”

Make sure your Will has stipulations for your online presence as well so that your beneficiaries are not handed any hurdles in following your intent and will have piece of mind going forward.

 The planning needs to start now, before it’s too late, said Bundgard.

“It starts when you’re living.”

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