Regulating digital inheritance: You should know that

Regulating digital inheritance: You should know that

Today you have to regulate not only the material but also the digital legacy of the deceased. We have a few tips to make it easy for family members to manage online user accounts and the like, so that the bereaved don't have any additional trouble.

By Sebastian Weber

Regulate digital inheritance by will

A will is basically the best way to regulate who should inherit something in the event of death or what else happens to the estate. It is important that the will is handwritten and then signed so that it is legally effective.

In the will or in a will specially prepared for the digital estate, it is possible to clearly list which online accounts, such as those on Facebook or Instagram, should be deleted and which data should be made available to the relatives and which should not.

In addition, it can also be clearly determined there who should take care of the digital legacy as instructed, whether it is a relative or a person of trust.

List online activity and passwords


Your heirs should know your – hopefully secure – passwords. Image: © Adobe Stock / ronstik 2019

Even if you have regulated your digital estate in a will, this is of no use if the bereaved do not have the information about which digital content and services they have to take care of.

Therefore, it is advisable to create a list of relevant online activities. It doesn't depend on every website that is opened. Rather, it is about services such as Facebook, Instagram and similar social networks. The same applies to other providers who have a user account, whether it is Amazon, eBay and other shopping services or software providers such as Microsoft and Adobe. You should also think about the accounts at Google and Apple.

With such an overview, the bereaved can later more easily check whether there are still ongoing contracts and subscriptions. You can delete or deactivate accounts, as regulated in the estate, and back up data. Important here: Many services require a death certificate as proof.

In addition to online activities, account information and passwords should also be listed – these must always be current passwords. This can be done simply with a list, preferably in paper form, or with a password manager that stores the data in encrypted form. The master password for the password manager must be made accessible to the survivors.

Contracts pass to heirs

Access to the various online accounts is not only important so that the bereaved can back up or delete data or set accounts to a so-called memorial status, for example on Facebook.

Rather, it is important to terminate or cancel existing contracts after the death of a relative, because these are passed on to the heirs and continue to run, whether they are open orders or booked trips etc.

What happens to eBooks and other digital possessions?

E-book reader comparison test

Unfortunately, you cannot inherit eBooks, digital music and films. Image:

When it comes to inheritance, the physical possessions of the deceased are easy to handle. Depending on the will or the legal regulations, the library or the record collection passes from the deceased owner to the heir or heirs.

When it comes to digital possessions, however, things are different. According to the terms of use of the vast majority of providers, a large collection of e-books or music and films is only possession, but not property. Accordingly, the account holder only has a right of use that expires as soon as death occurs. Accordingly, such content cannot be inherited.

Apple and Google: determine legacy contact

In addition to services such as Facebook, Instagram, e-mail accounts and the like, the user accounts at Apple and Google are probably the most important contact points when it comes to backing up and viewing data from a deceased person. Both companies therefore offer options to grant family members or other trusted persons access to personal data if it becomes necessary.

Apple: How to add a legacy contact


You can add a legacy contact on your iPhone. Image:

Apple offers the option to add a legacy contact to the Apple ID. To do this, you call up your Apple ID, which you can find on the iPhone, iPad or iPod under the settings when you click on your name. On the Mac, go to System Preferences and then click on "Apple ID".

In the next step, navigate to the "Password & Security" item and look for the "Legacy Contact" entry, where there is the option to add a legacy contact. If you have created a family group, the next window shows you the people in the group, which you can easily select. Other relatives or friends can also be added by e-mail or telephone number.

In the next step, Apple will create an access key for your legacy contact, which you should share with this person. Only with this key and the death certificate will the legacy contact later have access to the Apple account.

Google: Enable account inactivity manager


Google also offers estate management. Image:

If you use a Google account, you should activate the so-called "account inactivity manager". This is a service that automatically grants relatives access to selected data if the user of the account has been inactive for a certain period of time.

If you want to enable this option, you can do so via a fairly simple settings website . Google will guide you step by step through the recruitment process, whereby you must first enter your telephone number and email address. In addition, it is determined how long the account must have been inactive before the service becomes active. After that time, whether it's three, six, or up to eighteen months, Google will contact both the phone number and email address to make sure you're actually not responding.

In the next steps, you determine which family member or trusted person should then have access and to which data. Up to ten people are possible here and data access can be defined differently for each person.

In addition, Google also offers to delete the account afterwards. Then the designated survivors have access for a certain period of time before Google destroys the data.


  • The digital estate, like the "normal" estate, can best be regulated by a will.
  • A listing of online activities as well as user accounts and passwords helps survivors back up data, delete accounts, and so on.
  • Digital possessions such as e-books and the like cannot usually be inherited.
  • Existing contracts are passed on to heirs
  • Apple and Google offer simple functions to add legacy contacts to your own user account.

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