Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Data Inheritance

Planning for when you're gone

Devices | Passwords | Electronic Records
Social Media | Business Accounts | Legal Documents

Planning for your electronic accounts when you die.

Security Policies introduces the concepts of both personal and business policies.

What is Data Inheritance?

Not only do we live so much of our lives online through social media, but many documents are now electronic only, including our monthly household bills, official records and income taxes.

Internet users have an average of 90 online accounts on various platforms and websites.

If you die or become incapacitated, your family or executor needs to be able to deal with these accounts.

Planning for what happens to these accounts is called data inheritance.

The following articles explain data inheritance and how to prepare your accounts so that they are handled as you'd wish in the event that you're no longer capable of managing them.

There are several key components you should consider, including:

Every situation is different and rules may vary by country. You'll need to modify suggestions to meet your requirements.

Return to top


Your devices (computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.) have their own accounts, licences, subscriptions, data and passwords.

What can be done with these depends upon the terms of their licence agreements and the accounts that manage them.

Unless you provide the associated passwords, your family may be unable to access the electronic files on your computer that may be necessary to run the household or deal with vehicles or other property.

Passwords also protect access to online accounts, including utilities and subscriptions that could become digital liabilities.

Personal Devices

People often own other personal devices like tablets, smartphones, ebook readers and fitness-tracking watches.

Even if they don't contain important data such as contact lists and photos, the devices need to be cleared of personal information and hopefully can be re-purposed by other family members.

The Smart Home

It isn't uncommon for people to make life more convenient by replacing traditional thermostats, door locks, vacuums or even lawn mowers with versions that are remote controlled or accessed.

Devices like Google Nest or Amazon Echo can be used to track and control these items.

While these devices are unlikely to store electronic records required by the estate, they contain personal tracking information that should be cleared before they are disposed of or re-homed.

Return to top


According to Mozilla, the average person has 130 online accounts.

The number of passwords seems to get larger each year and additional security requirements have complicated dealing with someone else's online accounts.

Because of the increased reliance on multifactor authentication (MFA) and authenticator apps to protect passwords, you may need access to the smartphone to be able to deal with online accounts.

How do you record these in a safe manner makes them available to someone you trust so they can act on your behalf, if necessary?

Bitwarden Emergency Access

Bitwarden Premium permits you to set up emergency access for someone you trust in case something happens to you.

Bitwarden lets users designate and manage trusted contacts who can request access to their vault, if necessary. A three-step process requires subscribers to invite a user, who must accept the invitation, and be confirmed by the original requester.


There is a caveat, though: Only premium users—including those of paid organizations (Families, Teams, Enterprise)—can designate emergency contacts (who, in turn, must have a Bitwarden account). There's no limit to the number of trusted emergency contacts one user can have, though.

Learn more about Bitwarden's Emergency Access.

Return to top

Electronic Records

Most of our records are now provided in an electronic format rather than on paper, often requiring you to log into your account to obtain statements or other information.

How will you preserve this information so that it is accessible to your family or executor if you are no longer able to manage this yourself?

Local Storage

One method is to provide access to where it is stored, especially if it is on your computer.

You could also keep it on a removable hard drive or thumb drive.

Online Storage

Storage online has many benefits, including universal accessibility.


While there are many different online storage accounts, SecureSafe account provides a more secure environment.

SecureSafe is an award-winning online storage solution. The cloud safe protects documents and passwords, offering a level of security comparable to a Swiss bank.

SecureSafe has more information about data inheritance:

Digital Liabilities

People now have dozens or even hundreds of electronic accounts for various purposes.

In dealing with your affairs, information about your subscriptions, memberships, even cybercurrencies are necessary because these will need to be cancelled or transferred.

Accounts paid via a credit card can be considered “subscriptions” and charge your credit card even if they old number has expired.

Return to top

Social Media Accounts

So many people use social media accounts like Facebook to keep in touch and to share photos and other memories.

Preserving profiles may seem trivial, but our lives are increasingly lived online, so these accounts are the modern version of physical photo albums, letters, and other keepsakes.

You can sometimes make plans for your social media accounts if something happens to you.

Some social media accounts, like Facebook, can become legacy accounts, run by one of your heirs. The rules differ for each social media account.

The topic of data inheritance is young and many online service providers have yet to present their policies on it.


Some of the heavyweights have, however, already put various options in place for their users to pass on important data or rights to online accounts.

Return to top

Business Accounts

If you have a business, it is an entity separate from your personal life but also needs to be managed in the case of your death or other circumstances where you are incapacitated.

Will It Continue?

The first decision is to determine if the business is capable of running without you if you become incapacitated or die.

Consider whether the business has existing managers, key employees or co-owners that are capable of managing the day-to-day business details with minimal oversight. This will determine if continuing the business is a viable option.

There may be an option to sell the business, depending upon its nature and whether there is value without you.

If these conditions cannot be met, the business will have to be wound down and the liabilities paid off (including any outstanding taxes).

Privacy and Confidentiality

Depending upon the size and nature of the business, there will be other issues, including privacy and confidentiality issues, particularly if your business deals with private client data.

In such a case you'll need to ensure that security policies (including non-disclosure agreements) are in place for employees with access to that information as well as anyone brought in to assess the business.

Provide Guidance

You need to provide direction and appoint someone that is familiar with your business or has the ability to deal with the financial and legal issues. These may include your accountant, lawyer or key employees or store managers.

Be sure to set up a power of attorney for the person(s) capable of oversight in the continuance or dissolution of your business along with written instructions detailing the business operations and requirements which is stored in a safe and secure location accessible by that person and your executor.

Return to top

Legal Documents

Your online life isn't the only area where your family may need to interpret your intentions.

If you were hit by a bus today or were otherwise incapacitated, would your loved ones be able to quickly locate your important information or know how to handle your affairs?

Consider the information required to manage your life if you were to start from scratch.

The better prepared you are, the easier it will be on those you leave behind to carry out your wishes.

What if You're Incapacitated?

Death is not the only potential eventuality that will require intervention.

Just as important as what happens after you die is what happens if you're ill, incompetent, or incapacitated.

Everyone should have a current will, power of attorney and representation agreement. These are legal documents that empower someone you trust to make decisions on your behalf.

It is critical that you appoint people capable of the duties involved and that will manage affairs in your best interest.

Create a Master List

Create a master list (plus any other associated files) to describe where your personal papers, legal documents, monthly bills and other important documents are stored and how they are organized. Don't forget keys, computer passwords and combinations to the safe.


A will is a legal document specifying how you're like your estate handled.

To ensure your final wishes are carried out, everyone should have a current will that follows the legal requirements for where you reside or do business (perhaps different).

You need to update your will after important life milestones like marriage, birth of children, death of a spouse or other heirs, etc.

Your Executor

The person(s) you name as your executor need to be reliable but also young enough to ensure they outlive you and are capable of the sometimes arduous task. You can also appoint a lawyer, but should also have someone more familiar with your wishes deal with personal matters under the lawyer's direction.

An executor's job is to carry out the deceased's wishes and a duty to:

  • protect the estate assets
  • follow the instructions in the will
  • put the interests of the beneficiaries before their own
  • keep estate assets separate from their own
  • keep good records and account to the beneficiaries
  • People's Law School

Without a Will

The laws regarding inheritance without a will vary by province, state or country, but usually there is a default order of inheritance.

A friend recently passed without preparing a will even though she knew for months she was dying.

Her estranged brother will inherit everything but told the Public Trustee managing her affairs to “Just send me a cheque.”

Family heirlooms were lost to other family members and her wishes expressed verbally were unenforceable.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney gives a person you trust the capacity to make financial and other important decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

A power of attorney is the person who can attend to financial or legal matters if you fall ill or are unable to handle them for yourself.


It's a good idea to choose a power of attorney so that they can attend to your financial and legal issues immediately after you fall ill.

The duties include the management of your finances and other affairs.

Specific powers of attorney can provide for different people to manage different areas of your life such as personal and business affairs.

All powers of attorney expire upon your death.

The executor of your will then becomes responsible for decisions based upon your wishes as expressed in your will.

Representation Agreement

A representation agreement gives a person you trust the capacity to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

Be sure to choose someone that will make decisions about the sorts of treatments that you would choose if you were capable of doing so.

Once incapacitated you are unable to make changes to your representation agreement or dispute those decisions.

You should have an in-depth discussion with this person so they understand your wishes, perhaps including directions which describe your choices in certain circumstances.

Return to top

Related Resources

On this site:

Found this resource useful?
Buy Me A Coffee


Return to top
Updated: February 15, 2024