Most of us know that it's a good idea to have a will. Many consult estate planning experts or attorneys to help us preserve, distribute or dissolve assets following our death. We also may create lists to help our loved ones know what to do and how to handle our affairs if we become incapacitated. Or, at least, we mean to.

But do our loved ones or estate executors know how to login to our online banking accounts should something happen to us? Do they have the info they need to access email accounts and social networking profiles? Could they find the treasured family photos we've tucked away somewhere in the online cloud?


In the digital age, as we spend more time online for both business and pleasure, the list of things your loved ones need to know if something happens to you is evolving. As my grandparents aged, my parents needed to know where to find the safety deposit box key, the location of a few important documents and not much else. Should something happen to my husband or parents – in addition to standards like safety deposit boxes, wills, power of attorney, health-care directives – I need to know how to access their online banking and money management accounts (bank,, Quicken, Turbotax), logins and passwords for their email and social media profiles (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), music and media accounts (Picasa, Flickr, Snapfish, Pandora, iTunes), and other assorted online accounts like Amazon, PayPal, frequent flier programs...


Luckily, there's a resource to help us whether we're laying out what our loved ones need to know about our own online presence, or trying to sort out the digitally documented life of a departed parent, child or spouse. has created an infographic called the "Step by Step Expert Guide to Protect Yourself Online Before You Die." The guide identifies three basic steps:


1. Identify your digital assets. These may include digital files (email, photos, documents), devices (computers, tablets, mobile phones) and accounts (online banking, shopping, social network profiles). If you're 45, much of your personal history is likely to be online in one form or another. If you're younger, MOST of your personal history can be found online.


2. Choose an estate planner. Whether you designate an executor, create a list and give it to next of kin, or utilize an estate planning service, plan ahead so that your loved ones know what to do with and how to access your digital accounts should something happen to you.



3. Create your digital legacy. Don't just provide your executor or loved ones logins and passwords for accounts – think about how you want to be remembered online. Would you like your Facebook page to remain active? Do you want all of your social profiles removed? Do you want your family to maintain an online memorial page? You can decide your digital legacy.


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