Digital-estate planning and legacy preservation hasn’t caught on with the masses maybe for the same reason that “regular” estate planning hasn’t permeated our collective consciousness (amazingly, more than half the adult population in the U.S. lacks a will; Romano estimates the figure may be 65 percent). “Given the choice, most of us would prefer not to think about our mortality until we have to,” says Jeremy Toeman, co-founder of Legacy Locker, a well-regarded online repository of digital assets. “It’s not easy to get a regular person to take a few minutes out of his day to do something morbid.” Mostly, though, the lack of digital-estate planning can be traced to a lack of awareness. While a few incidents spotlight potential hazards and abuses — the national and international media seized on Justin Ellsworth, a Marine killed in Iraq whose family sued Yahoo! for access to his email account — most individuals figure that surviving family and friends can piece together the digital puzzle without assistance. These individuals clearly haven’t attempted to parse the impenetrable policies of entities like Facebook, which has an option for “memorializing accounts.”

So how does one set about organizing, planning or otherwise bequeathing a digital estate? First, inventory anything and everything that an executor might not easily find rifling through your file cabinet. This should include assets obvious (email accounts, blogs, financial accounts gone paperless, Twitter and other social-media tchotchkes) and less so (photos and other media stored in the cloud, domain names, property within video games, virtual worlds like Second Life). After that, the would-be digital accountant should create a list of user names and passwords associated with each asset (do not put these in a will, which is a public document). Finally, the list should be made accessible to a trusted family member, friend or attorney, complete with detailed instructions, such as domain names need to be renewed annually.

A small industry is forming around this process, with new players popping up constantly, vying for distinction. The site Deathswitch.com, for example, despite having a moniker better suited to a Swedish thrashcore band, emails pre-scripted messages to a chosen group when the user fails to respond to prompts for his password; few have achieved mainstream notice.

Then there are the established players like Legacy Locker, Entrustet and SecureSafe, which attempt to ease the process by rendering it user-friendly and — at least in the estimation of this Internet naïf — secure. Given the subject matter, the former might be as important as the latter.

Entrustet co-founder Nathan Lustig notes that his firm has “changed the way we present ourselves to people, not just as a way to protect stuff for when you die but as a way to keep track of inventory when you’re alive.” Legacy Locker’s Toeman similarly stresses the importance of messaging: “I’ve written lots of copy in my career, but I never spent more time deliberating on a word-by-word basis than I did when building this,” he says. “For a subject this sensitive, it’s challenging to convey that we’re a serious business and not sound like a bank.”