Preserve your data for posterity!

Take Control of
Your Digital Legacy

Second Edition
Joe Kissell

How do you want to be remembered? A will takes care of your physical possessions, but what about your digital life—photos, email, files, online accounts, and so on? If you want to pass your electronic ephemera on as part of your digital legacy, turn to tech expert Joe Kissell for advice on dealing with large quantities of data, file formats, media types, the need for a “digital executor,” and more.

All Take Control books are delivered in two ebook formats—PDF and EPUB—and can be read on nearly any device.


We all have digital data that’s important to us now, but a lot of it could also be important to our children, friends, and relatives long after we’re gone. But you have to take concrete steps now to make sure that data is preserved in the right way and handled according to your wishes. It’s not all about posterity either, since following Joe’s advice will also help loved ones access your key accounts and important info if you’re temporarily incapacitated, which can happen at any time.

The book will help you with these essential tasks:

  • Identify your key digital assets: online accounts, photos, audio files, videos, passwords, documents, email, and more.
  • Plan for each type of digital asset based on your priorities for today, for shortly after you are no longer around, and for posterity. Joe explains the ideal file formats to use, how to deal with social media sites, the best ways to digitize paper documents and photos, and strategies for sharing passwords with family members, among much else.
  • Communicate your wishes in a “digital will” and designate someone to be its “digital executor.” The book includes a template document that you can develop into a personalized digital will.
  • Preserve your data for the future. You’ll consider types of archival storage media, cloud-based storage services, backups, and what instructions to provide about maintaining your data as file formats and storage media types evolve.

Whether you just want to ensure that your heirs get copies of your favorite family photos and a few key documents or you want to catalog and preserve tens of thousands of digital items, this book helps you make smart decisions about your digital legacy.

Questions answered include:

  • What strategies can I use for sorting and preserving email and instant messages?
  • How can I ensure that my email account(s) will be available to those wrapping up my estate?
  • What if I have digital data that should be destroyed when I die?
  • What should I do with my huge photo collection (both digital and paper)?
  • How should I pass on control of my Apple, Google, and Microsoft accounts?
  • How can I make my passwords and passkeys available to those who will need them—but keep them private for now?
  • What should I think about when handing down purchased audio and video files?
  • What should happen to my Facebook account when I’m no longer around?
  • What choices are available for keeping my digital archive available and backed up?
  • How long should I expect archival media to last?
  • Should I write an autobituary?
  • Are online digital legacy services any good?
  • How will organizing all this stuff benefit me while I’m alive?
Joe Kissell

About Joe Kissell

Take Control publisher Joe Kissell has written more than 60 books about technology, including many popular Take Control books. He formerly wrote for publications such as Macworld, Wirecutter, and TidBITS. He lives in Saskatoon with his wife and their two sons.

What's New in the Second Edition

Death may be forever, but technology marches on. Although the broad strokes of what I recommended in the first edition of this book back in 2017 remain accurate, changes to operating systems, apps, hardware, websites, and businesses have meant there are lots of new things to talk about. In addition, after giving dozens of presentations on the contents of this book, I’ve realized that I left some questions unanswered and omitted some essential details.

As a result, I’ve thoroughly revamped this book. The most significant changes in the second edition are:

  • Revised the text as necessary to reflect the increasing likelihood that your crucial data is stored on mobile devices (see, in particular, the sidebar “Computers vs. Mobile Devices”)
  • Added “Instant Messaging and Chat”, and updated “Social Media and Other Accounts,” to reflect the types of accounts people are most likely to use these days
  • Added information about passive income sources to “Digital Business Assets”
  • Added a sidebar called “What Is Media, Anyway?” to help clarify this ambiguous term
  • Expanded my guidance for what to do with your digital photos; see “Inventory Other Personal Data”
  • Updated “Inventory Digital Currency” to better reflect current reality and to mention NFTs
  • In “Decide on File Formats,” made some clarifications and attempted to make the advice a bit easier to follow
  • Added a lengthy new chapter, “Handle “Big Tech” Accounts,” covering the special steps you should take with an Apple, Google, or Microsoft account
  • Included a discussion of book scanners in “Obtain a Scanner”
  • Revised “Outsource Scanning” with additional options you can consider
  • Added a sidebar, “What About Passkeys?,” that discusses the benefits and additional challenges of password-free logins
  • In the chapter now called “Deal with Email and Messages,” added a section (“Handle Instant Messages and Chats”) on dealing with instant messaging, chat, and SMS data
  • Reworked “Handle Your Media,” especially the topic “Digital Media Complications,” to offer better advice in dealing with purchased media
  • Added more detail about handling cryptocurrency in “Handle Digital Currency”
  • Added calendars and contacts to the list of information you should consider in “Handle Other Cloud Data”
  • Included two new sidebars, “Does Disk Format Matter?” and “Including One Person’s Digital Legacy in Another’s,” in the “Preserve Your Data for Posterity” chapter
  • Noted how important it is to exercise hard drives and SSDs used for archival storage in “Store Media Safely (and Redundantly)”
  • Added hardware security keys to the items you should include when you Create a Legacy Dossier
  • Thoroughly overhauled the lists of services in the sidebar “Online Digital Legacy Services”
  • Updated the downloadable Digital Will Template to reflect the many additions and changes in this edition
  • Read Me First
    • Updates and More
    • What’s New in the Second Edition
  • Introduction
  • Quick Start
    1. Envision Your Digital Legacy
      • What Your Digital Legacy Means
      • How Digital Legacy Planning Can Improve Your Life Now
      • Understand the Challenges
      • Review: Estate Planning Basics
    2. Inventory Your Digital Assets
      • Begin Drafting Your Digital Will
      • Inventory Online Accounts
      • Inventory Your Media
      • Inventory Software
      • Inventory Other Personal Data
      • Inventory Digital Currency
    3. Make High-Level Decisions
      • Determine Your Priorities
      • Decide What to Preserve and Discard
      • Choose a Digital Executor
      • Decide on File Formats
    4. Handle “Big Tech” Accounts
      • Apple Accounts
      • Google Accounts
      • Microsoft Accounts
    5. Digitize Photos and Documents
      • Take Preliminary Steps
      • Scan Photos and Documents Yourself
      • Outsource Scanning
      • Name and Organize Digitized Files
      • Back Up Digitized Files
      • Decide What to Do with the Originals
    6. Deal with Passwords
      • Use a Password Manager
      • Highlight Key Accounts
      • Give Your Digital Executor Access to Your Passwords
    7. Deal with Email and Messages
      • Understand Email Complexities
      • Decide How Your Email Should Be Handled
      • Add Email Instructions to Your Digital Will
      • Handle Instant Messages and Chats
    8. Deal with Social Media
      • Review Your Social Media Accounts
      • Decide What to Do with Each Account
    9. Deal with Other Digital Data
      • Handle Your Photos
      • Handle Your Media
      • Handle Your Software
      • Handle Digital Currency
      • Handle Other Cloud Data
      • Handle Other Local Data
      • Handle Backups
    10. Preserve Your Data for Posterity
      • Choose Archival Media
      • Create a Data Archive
      • Store Media Safely (and Redundantly)
      • Refresh Your Archives
      • Decide What to Do with Your Hardware
    11. Create a Legacy Dossier
      • Instructions
      • How to Be Me
      • A Copy of Your Will
      • Your Digital Will
      • Your Data (or Where to Find It)
      • Your Hardware Security Key (if Any)
      • Your Autobituary
      • Genealogical and Biographical Data
      • Store Your Dossier Safely and Accessibly
      • Keep Your Dossier Up to Date
  • About This Book
    • Ebook Extras
    • About the Author and Publisher
  • Also by Joe Kissell
  • Copyright & Fine Print

Joe Kissell Discusses Digital Legacy on MacVoices

Posted by Joe Kissell on July 17, 2023

Joe Kissell joined host Chuck Joiner on MacVoices to talk about Take Control of Your Digital Legacy, Second Edition.

In part one, Joe discusses what has changed in the world of digital estate planning in recent years, especially with big tech companies, and talks about the role of a digital executor.

In part two, Joe talks more about your digital executor and other professionals, as well as the risks of using third-party digital legacy services, the benefits of an autobituary, and what you should do about your passwords.

Joe explains the “most fun” book about death you’ll read this year

Posted by Michael E. Cohen on February 3, 2017

Ignore the purple hair (or, like us, revel in its sublime beauty) as you listen to Joe explain to Chuck Joiner of MacVoices how he came to write this book. Though you won’t hear Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” playing in the background, the tips and tactics Joe offers for controlling your digital legacy may leave you humming it.


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