Unlocking the Digital Vault – How to Safeguard Your Online Presence for Your Loved Ones

Jamie Block, CFP®, CPA/PFS, CDFA®, AEP®, MBA

Sr. Wealth Advisor, Sr. Director


What happens to digital assets when you die? Who will have access? Learn how to take control of your digital legacy.

Unlocking the Digital Vault Image

In today’s increasingly digital world, the question of what happens to our online presence and digital assets after death has become a topic of significant concern and intrigue. As we navigate the complexities of modern life, our digital footprint continues to expand, encompassing everything from social media accounts to cryptocurrency holdings, raising poignant questions about legacy, privacy, and the management of our virtual selves in perpetuity.

While traditional estate planning has long focused on tangible assets like property and finances, the advent of digital technology has necessitated the inclusion of provisions for digital assets within wills and trusts. These legal documents serve as vital tools for outlining the management and distribution of one’s estate after death, and they are increasingly adapted to address the complexities of digital inheritance. By explicitly detailing instructions for the handling of digital assets, including access to online accounts, management of cryptocurrencies, and preservation of digital files, individuals can ensure their digital footprint is managed in accordance with their wishes, providing clarity and peace of mind for loved ones tasked with navigating the digital afterlife.

Inheritable Digital Assets1 Non-Inheritable Digital Assets1
  • Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency
  • Non-fungible tokens (called NFTs)
  • Domain names
  • Funds kept in online accounts, such as PayPal
  • Money inside an online store, if you have an Etsy or Amazon shop
  • Digital music files or pictures
  • Frequent flyer miles, depending on the airline
  • Blog content or other online published works
  • Monetized video channels actively earning advertising revenue
  • Online investment portfolios and wallets
  • Email accounts
  • Social media handles and accounts
  • App accounts and the information contained in them
  • Subscription services, such as Apple TV or Spotify
  • Any assets deemed non-transferable in the terms, this is most common with domain names


If your will or estate plan lacks specifics concerning the management of your digital assets, the fate of transferable ones will likely be subject to probate or, worse, become irretrievable. To safeguard against potential privacy law breaches, it’s important to identify individuals in your will who are authorized to access your accounts. Navigating the varied rules and laws governing different digital platforms can pose challenges, potentially causing your wishes on how you want your accounts handled after your passing to not be fulfilled.

Platforms like Meta, which owns Facebook, offer memorialization options, allowing users to designate a legacy contact with limited control over their profile. With Meta, you can also select to have your account deleted upon your death. If you don’t choose a setting, a legal representative (such as a loved one designated in your will) will need to submit a request to remove your account or memorialize your profile.

Similar protocols exist for other platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, and X. For Apple users, designating legacy contacts can ease access to accounts, although unlocking a locked phone remains a hurdle. Consider leaving a list of passwords, including the one to your phone for your loved ones. Providers of Android phones have less strict rules about letting legal representatives unlock a phone.

Cryptocurrency and NFTs present unique challenges, often requiring users to share access information with trusted individuals or utilize password managers.

The laws in your state might also impact who can access your accounts. Some states have adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which allows your designees to have access to your accounts if you already granted it through the digital service or you have included permission in your will.2

Some digital assets are not “owned” by you and, therefore, are not transferrable. If you cannot leave the assets to an heir, you may still be able to grant access to them through your estate plan. Maybe it should go without saying, but your designees likely won’t know about or be able to access all your accounts if you don’t document the login information (but be sure the list is in a secure and trusted place.)

Here are a few first steps to consider when developing a plan for your digital assets:

  • Compile a comprehensive list of all your digital properties, along with their login credentials.
  • Familiarize yourself with the user agreements for each of your accounts.
  • Determine who should, or should not, have access or ownership of your accounts after your passing.

Once you’ve completed these initial steps, consider including specific instructions in your will or estate plan regarding the management of your digital assets:

  • Specify who is authorized to access and manage various accounts, encompassing music, photographs, games, software, social media, file-sharing, financial accounts, domains, blogs, tax preparation services, online stores, auctions, and more.
  • Outline instructions for requesting and receiving passwords and usernames, as well as resetting them if necessary.
  • Detail procedures for requesting and receiving disclosure of all electronic communications sent or received by you.
  • Provide guidance on accessing and controlling assets stored in the online cloud or on electronic devices.

Given the complexity involved, seeking guidance from an experienced estate planning professional or wealth advisor familiar with digital asset management is highly recommended. They can help you document these instructions effectively to ensure your wishes are carried out appropriately. If you are a client of Mercer Advisors, our estate planning team works hand-in-hand with your advisor, or we can work with your attorney to connect all the dots. Let’s talk.


1 “Cryptocurrency & Digital Inheritance – What You Need to Know”, Trust & Will.

2 “Digital Property Frequently Asked Questions”, American Bar Association.

Mercer Advisors Inc. is a parent company of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. and is not involved with investment services. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements.

All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. Some of the content provided comes from third parties that are not affiliated with Mercer Advisors. The information is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors. Mercer Advisors is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice to clients. All estate planning document preparation and other legal advice are provided through select third parties unrelated to Mercer Advisors.

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