Preparing for the Unthinkable: A Brief Guide to Digital Legacy Planning

Originally published at: Preparing for the Unthinkable: A Brief Guide to Digital Legacy Planning - TidBITS

Losing Charles Edge recently caused Adam Engst to think morbid thoughts that turned into advice about how planning for the unexpected can make life a little easier for those left behind.


Adam, many thanks for this! Because of your work and Joe Kissells’ I’m much better prepared! The two of you have performed a real service— all your readers are greatful!


It’s a good idea to have a technically savvy friend lined up, to help your heirs/executor handle the computer stuff. A friend has my passwords and a quick tour through my digital archives, Just In Case.


Excellent job, Adam. I am 87 years old, and have been a widow for nearly 4 years. My main concern is that things be as easy as possible for my two daughters when I die.

I suggest that your readers write their obituaries.

My financial affairs are taken care of, but, I have a house full of useful possessions, which my daughters will inherit. For the house (and other things) I’m making good use of the cloud in giving information to my daughters, dictating into Pages. When I begin a document I date and title it; for example, “family room.” I dictate on my iPad as things come to mind, and do major editing later on my iMac. These are living documents, and I give a link to my two daughters as I start each document. I allow them to edit some documents, read only or share others. Be sure to update the date when you edit.

(I can’t find how to make Pages insert an automatically updated date, and would really appreciate guidance on this. “Insert date” is always dim.)

There are many things that my family want to know about, but other things are important only to a realtor or the next owner when my house is sold one day. We built our home 41 years ago and made a later addition. There is much information that the future owner would find useful and important. Separate documents for this.

I’m able to make good use of my iMac and other devices in this ongoing project, as I imagine anyone reading this blog would be.

My attorney says that I still ought to keep hard copies of all my cloud-stored documents.


Great advice, Virginia, thank you! It sounds like you’re very much on top of this.

I hadn’t seen the term before Joe used it in the book, but apparently writing your own obit is called an autobituary. I like the idea—I think I’ll do a better job than almost anyone. :slight_smile:

Incidentally, Adam, I wrote it in the first person. And thanks for the addition to my vocabulary. :blush:


I am not certain if this information is in the latest version of the Take Control book, but I think it would be important to try as best as possible to be (digitally) forgotten once you are dead. For example it would be best to delete as many online accounts as possible.

I hadn’t heard about the Apple Legacy setting. But when I looked at it just now it said:

Starting in iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, and macOS 12.1, you can add a Legacy Contact for your Apple ID. Adding a Legacy Contact is the easiest, most secure way to give someone you trust access to the data stored in your Apple account after your death. The data may include photos, messages, notes, files, apps you’ve downloaded, device backups, and more. Certain information, like movies, music, books, or subscriptions you purchased with your Apple ID, and data stored in your Keychain—like payment information, passwords, and passkeys—can’t be accessed by your Legacy Contact.

What about getting important things like payment info and passwords to your legacy contact?

I was thinking of things like accounts I host for clients who will need a way of continuing, for example.

After my husband died, the funeral home notified the SSA, a standard practice.

Evidently the SSA notified my husband’s pension and annuity funds, which paid him in advance each month. Although these funds were to continue to me in full force at his death, the organizations immediately contacted me, requiring that I return the regular payments that were deposited just two days after his death. The old accounts in his name had to be closed and new ones opened in my name. This took 1-2 months. Fortunately, we had a joint cash management account so I wasn’t destitute.

I’m a widow now and the sole owner of that cash management account, which my daughters will inherit. My banker tells me that at my death the account will be automatically frozen. Consequently, I’ve opened a joint bank account with a daughter with sufficient funds for burial expenses and upkeep of my house until it’s sold.


Very useful points Virginia. I should check for my mother that my sister who she lives with has a similar arrangement.

That’s true for some people but not for others. Take Control of Your Digital Legacy does talk about deleting accounts.

Apple’s Legacy Contact is focused on the content within your Apple account. It’s conceivable that you could have stored client passwords and other information there, but frankly, it would seem better to have a disaster planning document for your business that would contain this information and name someone who could take over the clients technically.

That’s one approach, but I would suggest you and your daughter meet with an estate planning attorney. There are many things you can do to avoid this (and the probate courts), but since I don’t know your specific situation and am not a lawyer, I won’t make specific suggestions here.

And I would give this advice to everybody - young and old alike.

Back when I was single, I didn’t think about it because I had no dependents and so nobody would be financially impacted by my death. But that was incorrect reasoning - because you can become incapacitated and may be unable to make decisions. Today, I have an estate plan that includes a family trust, an advance medical directive and a durable power of attorney in order to (hopefully) cover all possibilities.

But since laws vary from location to location, this isn’t something you want to do on your own. Hence the advice to see an estate planning attorney who can draw up whatever papers you need in order to have your wishes enforced.


yes, I was widowed just over a year ago, and although the bank accounts were held in trust and therefor not frozen, the bank immediately deleted all the online banking bill recipients, because we had used my husband’s login to pay the bills. I had to recreate the entire list and re-enter the information under my own login. Since one never knows which person of a pair would unexpectedly perish, one has to keep a list of all online banking recipients (i.e. every company you pay online via the bank) so that someone can recreate it if it’s the other person. Even joint accounts don’t get around that one

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David, I appreciate your suggestions; they are valid and important. I’ve mentioned only a few things about my situation, those I felt might be useful to others. My attorney and my accountant and I have worked together and I believe my situation is under control. I have the necessary documents.
One unexpected nuisance: I’m not going to give either daughter joint ownership of my car because if I’m at fault in an accident my daughter could be sued. That information comes from my insurance agent. I’ve never been at fault in an accident, but there’s always a first time.


Reading this made me think of the long list of subscriptions and automatic payments that would need to be cancelled. I guess the safest thing would be to make sure all the accounts/cards that automatically get billed are closed. But you’d still need to make sure payment info is updated for crucial payments (e.g. the password manager and mortgage). It would be a challenge for me to come up with a complete list.


You can do this, Steve. Bit by bit. (Although byte by byte would be faster.) :smirk: Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back.

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When we moved into the RV for full time life in 2012 we started a list of every place that auto debited either our credit card or checking account so when the inevitable card fraud happened (3 times in 8 years)…we could quickly change all of those. And literally everything was charged to a single card for both points and bill consolidation purposes as we paid it in full online each month. Even after moving out of the Tv and back into a house in 2020 we still maintain that file of subscriptions and autopay things.