Thursday May 26, 2022

How to Do a Digital Spring Cleaning

Spring is the season of rebirth, positivity, renewal… and tidying up. Which nowadays means cleaning your virtual, as well as your physical, space.

After all, many of us have digital lives, with huge amounts of passwords and digital files that are emotionally important (family photos), financially important (insurance policies, medical records) and sometimes both (degrees, mortgage papers). And if you’re like most people, most of that stuff is not as well organized as it should be. Which means a digital spring cleaning is in order. But where do you even start?

Haven Life can help. Thanks to Haven Life Plusa bonus rider available to eligible Haven Life customers, you can take advantage of no-cost services from two companies that can help with digital organization, LifeSite and Trust & Will. We asked them for some advice. (And hey, even if you’re not, for some reason, a Haven Life customer — and you can do something about that here — these tips are still useful.)

Here’s what we learned:

Why you should do a digital spring cleaning

You may be wondering if it’s even worth doing a digital spring clean. Mitch Mitchell, associate counsel of estate planning at Trust & Will, explains why the answer is absolutely: “According to password manager Dashlane, the average American owns 150 online accounts that require passwords” he says. “They predict that this number will go up to 300 over the next few years. These numbers paint a picture of just how digital our lives are already, and how our digital footprints are set to grow even larger.” Managing hundreds of passwords — especially if they’re more complicated than ilovedogs1234 — is almost a full-time job on its own. That’s where LifeSite comes in.

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“Each online account can store important data, photos, documents, and other proprietary information,” Mitchell says. “They may even provide access to digital assets such as artwork, music, or cryptocurrency.” Add to that all the stuff you have on computers, hard drives and phones — more photos, media, documents, communication you might want to keep — and it becomes clear we need to treat our digital information and files with the same importance as, say , a beloved analog family photo. “For starters, we want to make sure that we can maintain access to our own accounts for the foreseeable future,” says Mitchell. “Further, we need to start thinking of ways to pass our digital assets to loved ones,” and to make our digital files and accounts “part of our estate plans and legacies.”

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How to get started

The best way to centralize your digital life is with a digital vault. This is essentially a cloud storage account with extremely high levels of encryption that can accommodate all kinds of files, from medical information to passwords. When selecting one, look for a service that is designed to facilitate the organization of all your files; offers a password management feature so that you don’t have to keep using those 150 different passwords; and permits you to share (and revoke) access for other users such as family members.

“Many people think they’ll just take one weekend to do this. That’s impossible,” says John Hoye, VP of strategic partnerships at LifeSite, Haven Life’s favorite digital vault. He recommends that people accept that, while digital organization may start with spring cleaning, it will be an ongoing process. “It’s OK to start small,” he adds, maybe with something like pet vaccination information.

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LifeSite chairman and CEO Chris Wong says “you should accept that things will come in pieces; you’ll add to it as you go. My family started with baby steps; at least the passwords so we can all watch Disney Plus together.” On that note, “getting buy-in from your family is important,” he says, since the more that everyone uses a digital vault, the more useful it becomes. “For us it was about prioritizing, thinking ‘what’s the most useful thing we can share today?’” For him and for many other families, that means starting with passwords, insurance and medical information that can be accessed by the right people in an emergency (which could mean “someone had an accident” or “I’m traveling and want to watch The Mandalorian”).

In terms of the mechanics of starting to fill a digital vault, “we have a template,” says Wong. “You just attach the documents we suggest and fill out the forms.” The process is pretty painless and the end result is way less stress.

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Digital spring cleaning for today — and beyond

Whether or not you believe there’s an afterlife for human beings, it’s indisputable that our digital selves will live on after us, whether we like it or not. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean your Facebook page will go offline or that your online savings account will vanish. Which means you need to make sure your loved ones can access these things when you no longer can. (One thing all the different versions of human afterlife have in common is that there is no wifi.)

“It’s so rare for it to occur to someone that their iCloud photo drive or Instagram account, for instance, should be included as a part of their estate plan,” says Mitchell. “However, these everyday accounts are a part of our digital legacy that we’ll want to leave behind one day. We’ll want to put a plan in place so that someone we trust will have the right access to handle our accounts when we’re gone.

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“We call this process digital estate planning,” Mitchell adds. “If you’re already in the process of a digital spring cleaning, why not create a digital estate plan? You can do this by creating an estate plan that names a digital executor, who is an individual who you trust to make sure your digital accounts are preserved, or extract and distribute any files or assets, per your wishes. You should also name any beneficiaries who should inherit any assets that are held digitally, such as cryptocurrency.”

“Be sure to include any specialized instructions or information that aren’t easily obtained or are specific to you. This executor can be the same person as your will executor, but you may appoint a different person who is especially great with technology.”

A digital spring cleaning won’t be one-and-done, but it will set you on the path to having your life organized and easier, both now and in the future.

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