Why you might want to add “digital assets” to your Will

March 01, 2019

This article was written prior to 15 March 2021, before the launch of the new Financial Advice Regime, and was published for information purposes only. It is not being actively promoted by Dollar Insurance. Dollar Insurance does not provide financial advice about the suitability of their products and cannot take into account your personal situation or goals. Before you decide to take out a Dollar Insurance Policy, you should read the relevant Policy Wording document which contains the terms, conditions, and exclusions of the Policy, and seek independent financial advice, if required, to ensure the insurance policy is suitable for you.

Bitcoin’s been making headlines for a couple years now, what with its value going way up (and back down again). You might even know someone who’s ridden this cryptocurrency roller coaster.  But the recent hubbub over the Canadian company QuadrigaCX sheds some new light on digital dough.

When their founder suddenly died in December 2018, the company was left with a mess of trouble. He was the only person who knew the passwords to unlock millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency.1 This could leave customers out in the cold, unable to get their money back.

The story is still unfolding (there’s some doubt that the money is really gone forever, and even claims that the founder faked his own death), but it’s still a good cautionary tale. Just about everybody is storing important info on a computer or in email accounts. Plus, there’s all those social media profiles, shopping sites and other footprints we’re leaving around the internet.

Our online life can continue long after we’re dead and buried.

This might not seem like a big deal, but it could matter to your family and friends. 

Kiwis are plugged-in

Our lives keep moving more and more online every year. About 89% of Kiwis used the internet in January 2018, including 3.44 million people using mobile phones.2 That’s a lot of downloading, streaming, liking, snapping and searching! 

It also means that heaps of stuff is saved on computers, smartphones and tablets. This might be important docs, like life insurance paperwork, bank statements or bills. It can also be sentimental stuff, like family photos or messages from friends.

But what happens to all these “digital assets” when you pass away? Your family might need to login to your computer, email and even your social media after you’re gone. But, this could be harder than you’d think. 

Privacy’s the name of the game

In the QuadrigaCX story, the founder’s laptop was encrypted to keep the passwords extra safe. Most of us probably aren’t using that much security, but family members could have trouble all the same. When it comes to all that online stuff you’re collecting, the law generally protects your privacy even after you die.

Some email providers and social media sites are very strict about user privacy. They’ll usually delete everything in an account and close it, but won’t let anyone—not even your family—in without the password. And many companies either can’t or won’t unlock laptops, smartphones or tablets.

Other companies are willing to work with families when someone dies. They might let them login, convert a social media profile to a “memorial” account or download everything you’ve written, uploaded or saved. To do this, they’ll usually need to show some proof that you’ve died and how they knew you.

You might want to visit the sites you use a lot and review their policies. This could help you decide which sites you may want to leave behind login details or instructions for.

So, what can I do right now?

Leaving some instructions in your Will for your digital assets might be a good way to help your family deal with them after you’re gone. These four steps could make this an easy and safe process:

1. Make a backup

Saving a copy of digital files is something we should really be doing anyway, just in case your computer crashes or your phone is dropped in a toilet. But, it might also make things easier when you pass away.

Backing everything up to the cloud or onto an external hard drive means you only need to worry about sharing one username (more on that in a bit). This could save loved ones the trouble of logging in to your computer, devices or more than one email account. Instead, they’ll have access to everything they might need or want all at once.

2. Write down usernames—just not in your Will

It’s always good to have a plan B. Even with a file backup, your family still might need logins for some accounts or devices. This might make sense for things like social media or email, so they can make changes or watch out for fraud. 

A list of the usernames or emails that go with each site could help. But, you don’t want to put this info directly in your Will. Your Will becomes public when you die, meaning anyone could login and start causing trouble! Instead, store this list someplace safe (like in a safety deposit box, at your solicitor’s office or with someone you trust) and write who should get it in your Will. 

3. Keep your passwords safe

Passwords are the other half of logging in anywhere you’re keeping digital assets that your family will need or want after you’ve passed.

If your family has control of your email address(es) and mobile phone, they can usually use these to reset your passwords. Sharing passwords is always a big no-no, but you can set up password management software to safely store these details if you want. And don’t forget about passcodes to your computer or smartphone that aren’t as easy to reset. You might want to write these down with those usernames.

4. Leave social media instructions

Sites like Facebook and Instagram give families some choices for taking care of your profile after you die. You might want to leave instructions for what should happen with yours.

There are usually three ways to deal with a social media profile when someone dies: delete it, have it memorialised or let someone you trust keep it open. There are pros and cons to each, so it might be worth it to read up on these and maybe even talk to your family about it. When you’ve decided, you can write these into your Will, if you want.

Time to sign out

Making sure your family can get ahold of your digital assets could help them after you’re gone. It’s about more than just closing accounts or unsubscribing from mailing lists. Looking at your photos, streaming your favourite playlist or listening to a voice memo might help them feel a little closer to you. In fact, leaving instructions for your online life could be a great gift to the ones you love the most. 

1. Gizmodo, Crypto Exchange Says It Can't Repay $262 Million To Clients After Founder Dies With Only Password, February 2019
2. We Are Social/Hootsuite, Digital in 2018 in Oceania report

About the author: Dollar Insurance is all about making insurance as painless as possible, with easy to get funeral cover, for just $1 a day. 


Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is of a general nature only and does not take into account your personal situation or goals. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs and seek independent financial advice, if required, to ensure an insurance product is suitable for you.

Any product information is correct at the time this article was published. For current product information, please visit the Dollar Insurance website.