Your "Virtual Legacy Drawer"

Your "Virtual Legacy Drawer"

By Benjamin J. Howard

Many of us actively manage our digital identity, but what about our digital legacy?

Many of you probably have already heard about a variation of Dave Ramsey’s “Legacy Drawer,” which is a specific place where an individual keeps their personal information, account descriptions, passwords/PINS, powers of attorney, etc.  If the individual dies or otherwise becomes incapacitated, a confidant will be able to put the individual’s affairs in short order. The benefit of this is obvious, as the confidant is spared a layman’s forensic accounting, often in a time of great stress, to put the individual’s affairs in order. But how many of you have ever thought about a “Virtual Legacy Drawer,” where your email, Facebook, Twitter, eBay Storefront, or Amazon.com account information is stored?

This novel subject is starting to attract attention. Marc Davis, a partner architect for Microsoft’s Online Services Division, presented on this issue at the March 2011 SXSW Conference[1] Mr. Davis has more than a passing knowledge of the subject, as he is responsible for many of Microsoft’s online ventures, including Microsoft’s search engine Bing.com and portal website MSN.com. “There’s a whole swath of data that we create that increasingly gets bound to our identity so that we leave a digital legacy,” Davis said.
 
The benefits of wills, trusts, and estate planning are already widely known. However, the concept of a digital legacy is gaining notice. “Every life phase we go through where we’ve established structures, documents, and contracts to handle property and identity – birth, marriage. Divorce, retirement – we’ve created as a civilization way to handle the movements of rights and assets. So we’re at that time in history now where we’re applying these metaphors and frameworks onto the digital realm.”  Although the media is different, and the law is playing catch up with digital property, the underlying principles remain the same.
 
Managing your digital presence can be difficult under the best of circumstances (“It can take Time and Tenacity to fix Your Online Reputation”[2]). When an individual is incapacitated, it is even more demanding for another person to do this on another’s behalf.  With a little preparation, this can be avoided. The next time you meet with your estate planner, bring up the issue of your own “Virtual Legacy Drawer.”


[1] Glenn Derene, What Happens to Your Online Data When You Die, Popular Mechanics, March, 2011, at http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/how-to/tips/what-happens-to-your-online-data-when-you-die. Last accessed on April 29, 2011.

[2] Riva Richmand, It can take Time and Tenacity to fix Your Online Reputation, San Diego Union Tribune, April 19, 2011, at C2.

This article appeared in the August 2011 issue of the Valley Business Journal

Benjamin J. Howard is an associate at Neil Dymott and concentrates his practice on the defense of healthcare professionals and general civil litigation defense. For more information on Mr. Howard or his areas of practice please see our website at www.neildymott.com

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