The main points in a nutshell

  • Your digital estate includes not only purely virtual data such as usage and access data, email addresses, your social media accounts, digital currencies, and credits, but also assets preserved on digital carriers such as mobile phones and hard drives.
  • Keep an overview of this data with a list of your passwords and logins on paper (stored in a safe), on a storage device or using a password manager.
  • Make it easier for your relatives to know what you want done with your digital estate by recording your wishes in a will.
  • Swiss inheritance law does not include special rules for digital estates.

Every day, each of us leaves a digital trail. We surf the internet, use online banking, maybe invest in digital currencies, send emails, or store vacation photos in the cloud. What happens to all this data after we die? You have to take care of your digital legacy yourself.

First things first: There are no special rules covering a digital estate in Swiss inheritance law. If you fail to leave instructions in your will or inheritance contract, your digital data will automatically pass on to your legal heirs after your death.

As with a traditional, so also with your digital estate: plan early what you want to happen to it. This is the only way you can decide for yourself what you want to pass on.

But what precisely is a digital legacy? And what should you consider when arranging it? In what follows, we explain how best to make arrangements for the settlement of your digital legacy.

Data jungle: get an overview

Have you memorized the WLAN password to the router in your vacation home? Do you know which online subscriptions you have and which photos you have stored in the cloud? To make arrangements for your digital estate, you should first get an overview of your digital footprint. Pay attention to the following points:

By definition, a digital estate includes all data, profiles, subscriptions and assets that a person leaves behind after death on local end devices such as smartphones or computers, but also on the internet. Physical data carriers can be passed on without further ado, but it is important that access to the devices has been secured for your heirs. Any executor also needs to be given instructions on what is to happen to the data and devices.

Arrangements for the data you leave behind on the internet are more complicated, as passing this on depends partly on the respective website operators. Typical online activities that leave behind data include, for example:

  • Sending emails from your personal email account
  • Using E-Banking
  • Using client accounts (e.g., online shops)
  • Trading in digital currencies (crypto currencies)
  • Subscribing to online newspapers, streaming services, etc.
  • Using social media platforms (for example, Instagram or LinkedIn)

Take the time to list all your personal online activities. Note down not just the online activities themselves, but also the relevant login data. While you are at it, deactivate any services you no longer need. Always keep the lists up to date. A password manager can help you with management. UBS Safe, for example, helps you manage confidential documents in addition to passwords. Find out more here.

Expand your financial knowledge

Expand your financial knowledge

Would you like to learn more about “Retirement”? Then subscribe to our “Retirement” learning path today.

What happens to online activities after death?

In a second step, you should now ask yourself what should happen to the listed data after your death. Should your partner have access to your email account? Will your granddaughter inherit your cryptocurrency? What should happen to your photos and posts on social media?

Data on social media: how to settle a virtual estate

Social media profiles are often very personal. Accessing this data can be tricky if the deceased failed to inform relatives in time about how to access it and their personal wishes. Here are some important notes for the respective social networks:

The regulations of Apple, Microsoft and Google

Apple, Microsoft and Google also provide specific regulations for organizing the digital estate. Learn below what you need to provide if you have such an account.

However you decide to handle your inheritance, you must record your wishes in a form provided by law for inheritance documents (handwritten or publicly notarized). This is the only way to ensure that your decision is legally valid. You should also inform a trusted person early on and give them access to your password list or password manager.

Digital estate planning: the most important points at a glance

  1. First, get an overview of your online activities.
  2. Regularly cancel services and subscriptions that you no longer need.
  3. Make a note of your login details and keep them in a safe place. You can use a password manager to do this, for example.
  4. Decide what to do with your digital estate and determine who gets power of attorney over your data.
  5. Record your decision in writing or publicly notarized form as part of your last will and testament.
  6. Elect a trusted person who will have access to your password list or password manager.
  7. Inform this person early on.

What can survivors do?

If deceased family members or partners have not made clear arrangements for their own digital estate, there are still some things you can do as a survivor or surviving partner. Get an overview wherever possible. A good starting point is the email address or email account. Anyone with access here can create a new password for many accounts and thus obtain data or cancel online services. A simple online search, for example via Google, can give the bereaved an overview of traces left by the deceased on the internet. You can quickly see on which portals the person was registered and what you need to attend to.

Although estate planning can be uncomfortable, you should still start planning early. This applies to material goods and assets as well as to digital data.

More articles on Retirement

Because a personal conversation is worth a lot

What can we do for you? We’re happy to address your concerns directly. You can contact us in the following ways: