Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Creating a Digital Will.

Next week I'm presenting a new lecture entitled "Creating a Digital Will" at RootsTech.  The topic comes from a need I found last year.  As I presented another lecture entitled "Heirloom, Documentation and Junk: What to Keep and What to Toss" across the country, I had dozens of people come up to me after every lecture asking about more information on digital wills.  Clearly, genealogists had been digitizing their family history but had not thought enough about how to preserve their digital past.

So I proposed this lecture to RootsTech and it was accepted.  It is something we all need to be talking about so that our digitized information is safe for future generations. If we don't preserve our digital life, our great grandchildren may know more about our great grandparents who wrote regular letters than they do about us and all of our emails.  To avoid a digital dark age in this generation, we must ensure that our records are accessible in the future with attention and a plan. Our digital footprint is subject to constant change and items are easily lost or destroyed when a subscription runs out, a bill is not paid, there is too much information to digest or even just a computer crash.

Of course I'm not a lawyer so this lecture is a general survey.  Participants are encouraged to consult a lawyer in their local area to ensure that they are working within any laws that effect where they live.  A digital will should never be included in a Last Will and Testament because once the testator dies, the will becomes a public document.  Likewise, digital assets change so quickly, a digital will needs to be updated without having to formally change a will.  A digital will can be referenced in a will but should be a separate document.

The lecture discusses what needs to be included in a digital will, and the survivorship policies of the popular websites for genealogists.  But the actionable part of the lecture is the six steps you can do to secure your digital legacy.  
They are:

  1. Collect a list of all your digital assets.  
  2. Once you have a complete list of digital assets, fill out the list with logins and passwords.  Add answers to security questions, pin numbers, account numbers, and security codes for all web assets and hardware
  3. Leave instructions for your wishes and designate an heir for each asset.  List which assets should be archived and saved, which should be deleted or erased and which should be distributed to family, friends or business colleagues.   
  4. Secure your list of assets, logins and passwords.  Because digital assets are subject to constant change, a digital plan must be easy to maintain so that it is kept up to date.  In some cases a good old fashioned piece of paper and locked case may be more secure.
  5.  Appoint a Digital Executor.  A digital executor will work with the executor of your Last Will and Testament to distribute your digital assets.  
  6. Whenever possible, digital information concerning family history can and should be disseminated among family members now for additional preservation whenever possible.
There is a lot to talk about concerning how we protect our digital history.  I hope you'll join us next Wednesday at 9:30 for the full discussion.  When you have a plan and get organized, you can make sure your family history assets and current history are preserved for future generations.  

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