There’s a good possibility that your business has hundreds, maybe thousands of emails stored on remote servers. You may have a business Facebook page or a Twitter account. And you may have countless files collected in Google Cloud. All those assets amount to a digital profile of sorts, which raises the question: what happens if a small business owner suddenly passes away?
Let’s face it: It’s not pleasant to think about our own mortality. Many people don’t create wills or think about how they’re going to transition their business until later in life. Most of this planning involves tangible assets such as property or equipment — and, of course, finances. Yet digital assets including email communications, vendor/supplier logins, legal documents and more are often overlooked.
Unsurprisingly, an AARP study from last year found that 6 in 10 adult internet users have not thought about what will happen to their digital content when they pass away. This becomes particularly problematic for small businesses. If there isn’t a plan in place when you pass, it could cause chaos for your business successors and be detrimental to the business itself. If vital accounts that house customer data or legal documents are blocked off to anyone who doesn’t have access, key business operations could be at risk.
While most people can’t control when their time comes, you can at least plan for it. Here are a few simple steps to take to prepare for your business’s digital legacy.
1. Identify Your Business’s Digital Assets
The complexity of our always-on, always-connected lives has brought countless new ways for us to store our business’s confidential information. On average, we have over $35,000 worth of assets stored on our devices. When planning your business’s digital afterlife, the first thing to consider is to take inventory of these accounts, otherwise known as digital assets.
Email accounts are a great starting point for cataloging digital assets, but for business owners responsible for finances, operations, management and more, there are countless other assets to address. Don’t forget about accounts like payroll and employee benefits, online storage such as iCloud or Dropbox and digital properties like company domains or social media accounts. Each of these assets plays a key role in your business’s overall operations.
2. Develop A Digital Estate Plan
After identifying all your business’s digital assets, the next step is to determine what you’d like to happen to each. This is where a digital estate plan comes in — a secure document or repository online that holds directives for handling your digital assets once you pass.
A digital estate plan should include your inventory of digital assets, from account logins to business documents, and specific directives for each. For example, you may want to maintain your business’s Facebook account but close your company’s Gmail account.
When in doubt, it’s better to close accounts than to leave them unattended. Deceased individuals are prime targets for identity theft, and recent stories of “theft after death” have emerged across the U.S. and around the world. Laying out a secure plan for this information could help prevent this threat to your business if you’re not around.
3. Designate Business Digital Heirs
After developing a digital estate plan, designate digital heirs who can put your directives into action. This can be an individual or a set of individuals you trust to carry out your digital estate plan. The good news? Many platforms have added features that make this a seamless process that you can set up today.
Passwords can pose a significant barrier to entry for digital heirs trying to carry out your wishes. Small business owners should remember to catalog passwords and usernames for any online accounts, like those for paying bills, logging into the websites of suppliers and vendors, and Wi-Fi. Password managers for business can provide an easy fix for this.
For businesses using Google accounts, Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows you to add individuals who will be notified when your account is inactive for a set period of time that you decide and will be allowed to manage your data thereafter. For other users, Microsoft’s Next of Kin process allows someone with power of attorney to access your data once you’ve passed; however, Yahoo will not share any of your data — even with those who hold power of attorney.
If you are the sole owner of your business’s Facebook, Twitter or other social media accounts, you’ll want to put plans in place to close or transition these accounts. Facebook allows you to set a legacy contact who’s designated to manage parts of your Facebook account or delete it altogether. Other platforms, including Instagram and Twitter, don’t currently allow users to designate a legacy contact. In this case, an easy option is to save these passwords in your business password manager and provide your designated contacts with access. No matter what the website’s policy is, don’t leave your company’s online persona to chance. Provide clear plans for your business’s social media properties so your digital legacy lives on in the way you’d like it to.
Today’s businesses leave endless digital trails that can create significant challenges if not accounted for and organized properly. Business owners today should ask themselves, “Would someone have access to everything they need in order to step into my shoes and run the business or settle my business after my death?” Taking the steps today to plan for the inevitable can ensure that your business’s digital legacy lives on in the way that you prescribe.