Digital Estate

Who wants to live forever? Our data makes us immortal on the Internet. But what happens to our data when we die? And what can you do to manage things while you are alive? You’ll find the answers in this module.

Are you planning a 25-minute workshop on the subject “Digital legacy”? Scroll down to find helpful ideas.

You will find specific ideas and example excercises for your workshop participants.

Please find the facilitator‘s guide for this 25-min workshop here.

Other versions of the workshop are 90 min and 45 min in length.

People go, data stays

The facts show it: Every day we leave behind a multitude of digital footprints. Those trails don’t go away, either – even after we die. Despite this, only 18 percent of users in Germany have left instructions for handling their digital estates. But just what is a “digital estate”?

What does “Digital Estate” mean?

What do you think of when you hear the terms “estate” or “legacy”? Of valuables like jewelry, cars, or money, like many others? But remember that modern life is increasingly taking place on the Internet, where people also leave things behind when they die.

A digital estate consists of all of the electronic data a person leaves behind on a digital device (such as a computer, tablet PC, or smartphone) and on the Internet after his or her death. This includes customer accounts and social network accounts. Whether on the Internet or on a hard drive – the deceased’s messages, photos, and images are also part of their digital estate.

Profiles in social networks
Nine out of ten Internet users are active on social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Xing. These profiles continue to exist after someone dies.

Offline files
Your heirs can still access the images, presentations, and documents that you saved while you were alive, even after your death.

Over your lifetime, you create a multitude of accounts, for example, in online shops or on video portals. These accounts continue to exist after you die.

Electronic messages
Every day we send and receive many messages. E-mails, chat histories, and voice messages endure the passage of time.

Digital products
More and more digital products, like music files, movies, and video games, are being purchased on the Internet. Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are also digital assets. These purchases remain even after your death.


Leonard (38) is fatally injured in a traffic accident. Although he wrote a will, unexpected problems arise.

Scenario I

Three months after Leonard’s funeral, his family receives a bill. A streaming service has charged them EUR 34.89 for the past three months.

Think about it before you continue scrolling: Does his family have to pay this bill?

Scenario I

Purchase agreements and subscriptions often don’t end when you die. According to the law, the deceased’s obligations are transferred to their heirs. Therefore, as the heir, you must pay the deceased’s outstanding bills.

However, you can also contact the company in question directly. Recent purchases could still be eligible to invoke the right of withdrawal. Or the company proves to be accommodating and waives the payment obligation.

Scenario II

Two years after Leonard’s death, birthday greetings are still being posted to his timeline. This is always a sad moment, especially for his wife Christina.

Think about it before you continue scrolling: Can Christina prevent others from posting to her late husband’s timeline?

Scenario II

It is difficult to access a social media account without the login data. Many social networks do not allow family members to access the accounts of the deceased, because other users’ data also has to be protected.

A similar case went to court in 2012: The parents of a deceased fifteen-year old girl in Germany wanted to access their daughter’s account, to gain insight into her sudden death by analyzing her messages and chats. However, Facebook had already memorialized her account, making it impossible for the parents to log in even though they knew the user name and the password. The German Federal Supreme Court ruled on the case, declaring that personal data such as social media accounts are inherited by the family members. With this ruling, family members could get access to their deceased relatives’ social media accounts in the future.

Rest in Peace 2.0

People have used places like cemeteries, where their deceased loved ones could be commemorated for centuries. However, the Internet also offers ways of remembering the deceased. Watch the video to see how digital offers are changing the idea of “rest in peace”.

Settle your estate

Even though no one likes to think about dying, you should think about tomorrow today and settle your digital estate in time. Your relatives will thank you for it!