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Protecting Digital Assets


I am a digital scrapbook junkie. I have 45,000+ pictures stored on my computers and in the cloud. What will happen to my photos, digital scrapbooks on Shutterly and other digital treasures after I’m gone?

In the technologically advanced world that we live in, your family members will likely have difficulty accessing your online activities and accounts in the event of your death. Digital assets include any online account, password, or file that you store on your computer or in the cloud. This can include your email account, GoogleDocs, online banking, investment and credit card accounts, PayPal, domain names from providers like GoDaddy, web-hosting accounts, social networking accounts like Facebook, pictures stored online at a site like SmugMug or Shutterfly, online shopping at Amazon and online bill payment accounts for your utilities.

While some of these assets do not have monetary value, many of them have sentimental value to family members. Further, most of these providers have their own internal policies and terms of service agreements about access to these accounts in the event of the incapacity or death of the account owner.

For example, Yahoo Mail does not allow anyone, including a personal representative, to access an account. Upon notification of a deceased account owner, the account is terminated and the contents deleted. Google’s Gmail policy on the other hand, states that they may, in certain circumstances, allow a personal representative access to the content of a deceased person’s email.

Not very reassuring.

One option is to use Gmail’s Inactive Account Manager, which will allow a user to share all or a portion of their Gmail account in the event the account is inactive for a certain period of time. You will need to review the Terms of Service you agreed to when you set up the account to determine the options available to you with different providers.

There are a few things you can do during your lifetime to protect your assets, including making a comprehensive list of your digital assets, along side your financial information. You can also back up your digital memories to an external hard drive or rely on a digital gatekeeper. Services such as those offered by Legacy Locker and Password Box charge a monthly or yearly fee to store and protect your digital assets during life and after. Any system that you use should be evaluated to fit your particular needs and level of online security comfort.

Just in case you were still stuck on the idea that your digital pictures might be lost in the cloud, Shutterfly does allow a personal representative to access a deceased owner’s account upon proof of appointment and a copy of the court order. An easier option is to add your close family members as a ‘shared owner’ to the account.

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