Today’s modern internet citizen holds a virtual passport for many online destinations. They travel to various social media websites, often with a unique identity associated with each one. They visit online banking and financial sites to manage their money matters. Their photo library is backed up to the cloud, they use a couple of different web-based email services, and they shop at any number of virtual malls and online boutiques.
This accumulation of accounts, usernames, passwords, and other information is your online identity or online ID for short. Your online identity is created and updated every time you give personal information to a website so the site’s operator can offer you services and/or recognize you in future visits.
It is important to capture the details of your digital assets and personal internet presence in a document we call an online identity record. Not only is this document a great personal resource, your online ID record is a vital component of your estate planning strategy as it lets your executor and family members know the details of your online life, and what actions they should take on your behalf when you are gone.
Your Online Identity Record and estate planning
Documenting your various internet accounts and services creates a vital reference work for you and your loved ones. There are several reasons why you should create an online ID record--most importantly because your record is an important part of your estate plan.
Your online ID record makes it possible for your executor and loved ones to identify the businesses, internet services, and government agencies they should contact in order to close your online accounts. Your record will also let your executor know about any online investments or digital assets they need to process as part of your estate.
Keeping an updated online ID record is just as important as having your other estate planning documents in order. Your estate planning documents should include these other items:
What are the benefits of having an Online Identity Record?
Aside from being an important part of your estate plan, having an online ID record can help you with the following items:
Credit card and banking changes: Over time, your credit card number ends up on many different ecommerce and web services/subscription sites. Several of these sites use automated payment systems that automatically charge your credit card on a monthly or annual basis.
If you ever switch to a new credit card or need to change your existing card number, it’s a huge chore to remember all of the sites you need to update your credit information on to keep your automated payments from being interrupted. Your online ID record will make this task much easier.
Internet security outbreaks: When an online security breach happens, it’s usually limited to one company or institution. This type of event may only require you to reset your password on a single company website or a certain mobile app.
However, some internet security threats can have a much greater impact. The Heartbleed security exploit of 2014 and the Cloudflare bug of 2017 are two examples of large-scale threats that prompted many users to change their online passwords to avoid possible identity theft or online credit fraud. Your online ID record is the perfect reference guide for every site you need to visit if a wholesale change of your online account passwords is necessary.
Review/cancel unwanted services: The Internet is the perfect delivery system for a wealth of entertainment services. Movies, television shows, streaming music, e-books, videogames, and live sports are all available through different subscription services.
There are also paid services such as cloud storage, productivity suite subscriptions like Microsoft’s Office 365, premium webmail accounts, and many others.
It is easy to end up subscribed to a half-dozen or more online services. And, because many of them are either free or have a low monthly cost, it’s easy to overlook which services you are subscribed to, or how much you are spending on them.
Creating and regularly updating an online ID record gives you the opportunity to occasionally review all of your current subscription services, and decide which services to keep and which ones you are no longer interested in.
How do I create an Online Identity Record?
An online ID record is essentially an itemized list of internet accounts, with each account having the following details documented:
- Company or website name
- Type of service associated with the account
- Account username and password
- Any credit card, bank account, or other payment method information
- Payment frequency and amount (if applicable)
Here is an example of a simple online ID record account entry for a fictional ecommerce website:
Amazone (online shopping account)
Payment Details: Visa Card number on file
Monthly/Annual Payments: $39 annual membership
This entry contains all of the information you or a designated person would need to access your social network identity in order to make changes or to close the account.
Here are some of the most common types of internet-related accounts you will want to capture in your record:
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter)
- Banking and financial services (banks, brokerages, insurance companies)
- Online shopping (Amazon, Costco)
- Internet entertainment streaming services (Netflix, Spotify)
- App stores for mobile devices (iPhone, Android)
- Webmail services (Gmail, Outlook.com)
- Cloud storage services (Dropbox, OneDrive)
- Government websites (municipal, state, and federal services)
- Employment and job search sites
For each account entry in your online ID record, you should have at the very least the username and password for the account. Any relevant account numbers, security questions and answers, mobile phone numbers, and related email addresses are also good items to have in an account entry.
You may find it challenging to remember all of your existing accounts when you start creating your online ID record. The online accounts you use every day are easy to recall, but some of your older or less-used accounts may be harder to remember. Here are some suggestions for where to look for internet account information.
Email messages: Scroll through your inbox and look for any messages from businesses or government agencies. This is a good way to re-discover online accounts you have forgotten about.
Web browser bookmarks: Your browser favorites list can remind you of ecommerce sites you have visited before, social networks you’ve tried in the past, and job search sites you have created accounts on.
Mobile apps: Go through all of the mobile apps on your phone or tablet, and note down the ones you were required to create an account in order to use.
Where should I keep my Online Identity Record?
The question of where you should store your online ID record is a tricky one. In order to make your record a useful reference document as well as a valuable addition to your estate papers, the location you keep it in needs to fulfill the following requirements:
- It needs to be located where you can easily update it anytime you create a new online account, make changes to an existing account, or shut down an account.
- It needs to be kept with your existing estate papers, so it can be released to your executor when the time comes.
- It needs to be in a secure location so you won’t be at greater risk of identity theft.
- It needs to be recoverable in case of a hard disk failure, or an unfortunate event like a house fire or natural disaster.
There is a solution that covers all of these requirements: an online safe deposit box.
An online safe deposit box, also known as a virtual safe deposit box, is a digital version of the traditional metal boxes found at your local bank. In fact, many major banks offer online safe deposit box services to their clients, either for free or for a small annual fee.
Online safe deposit boxes are like other online backup services offered by vendors like Microsoft, Google, and Dropbox. How they differ, and what makes them perfect for storing estate planning documents like your online ID report, is you can designate a person who can access your online safe deposit box after your death.
Online safe deposit boxes are not as secure as a physical box kept in a fortified bank vault, but they do come with security features not always found with standard cloud storage services, including data encryption, two-factor authentication, and advanced security questions.
Make an Online Identity Record part of your estate plan
Every active internet citizen should consider creating an online ID record. Your record serves as an archive of your online accounts, and makes it much easier to manage your various internet services.
More importantly, your online ID record is an important estate document that makes it easier for your executor and surviving family members to discover your online accounts, and properly shut them down when the time comes to do so.