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Your personal digital legacy – For those you leave behind

What will happen to all your photos and videos when you pass on?

A few years ago I asked a friend and former co-worker what he thought about leaving behind information to his family. He replied,

“The family cares about your values and stories. The stories are usually a part of what reinforces or explains values. If you are lucky, two generations will care, and then your stories are trumped by theirs. But like your DNA, you hope the good stuff is being passed on. This has been done with scrapbooks, heirlooms, and letters in the past. So I hope our photos, videos, and family blog posts are things my kids will have. They will also want our music collection, if such a thing is needed in the future.”

He was right. I have access to pictures and other memorabilia of my grandparents, but not so much after that. More important, I have memories of my grandparents and the relationship with them. When they passed away from this life most of their physical possessions were sold or taken to charity. What we had in photos and other memory artifacts we kept. In many ways it seems heartless and cruel, but it is the reality of death and passing.

What will happen to our stuff when we pass on? We don’t choose directly. But there a few things we can do to help those we leave behind to preserve some of the data.

Where do you keep your memories and stories?

If you are like me, many of your most valuable memories are now digitized. Videos, photos, electronic documents, social media posts, etc. But we are a generation in transition. Some of these artifacts are physical and in our possession. Other parts of the data are now “in the cloud” because it provides a backup and is easy to access. Using an internet service also provides physical separation that protects the data from fire, flooding, and theft.

Have you thought about how your family will get to the information “in the cloud” after you pass on?

Two things will make it difficult for your family to find your digital files:

  1. The location of the data
  2. The credentials to access the data

A friend of mine once told me about his experience when his father passed away and he had to try to find all of the information about his financial accounts. His mother was still living but did not know about the bank accounts or investments because her husband did the family finances. After a long search he found the information in a file on the computer simply named “z.txt”. He was fortunate his dad left the file even though it was like a treasure hunt to find it.

The same holds true for us. When can save information to the cloud or put it in files on our computers. But if we hope our children will have access to it after we pass away then we need to leave them instructions on where it is and how to get to it!

A few tips to make life easier for those left behind.

  1. Buy a home safe or rent a safety deposit box.

Put instructions in the box about the location of your and how to get to it. While you are at it, you may want to include a list of financial assets as well. Since we live in password crazy world, I also put a sheet of how to access my online password manager. Different sites, different passwords.

  1. Some providers offer a service that notifies a list if your account is inactive for a period of time. I’ve used Google for much of my cloud storage and they offer inactive account manager. If I don’t login to my Google account for three months then it generates an email to my immediate family and gives them instructions for how to access the data in my account.

If you haven’t thought about this, it’s not too late! Go write-up some instructions.

Onward and upward!



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