Digital assets encompasses any and all online accounts that you may own including social media accounts, personal accounts, online banking accounts, online utility accounts, email, brokerage accounts, domain registration accounts, file sharing accounts and many more.
Given the quantity and value of information that we store on our computers and online accounts it is essential that digital estate planning become integral to your estate plan. Digital Estate Planning is the process of organizing your digital assets and making arrangements for what should happen in the event of your death. Without a digital estate plan, it will be harder for your loved ones to wind up your affairs---especially if, like most people today, much of your affairs are managed on a password protected online account. That’s not something anyone wants to be worrying about when mourning a loss.
While some major social platforms are incorporating a legacy plan, there is much more to be done in order to progress the concept of digital estate planning. Facebook and Google have provided tools for some basic digital estate planning for their user base that can be a helpful starting point. Facebook has incorporated a feature called “legacy contact” that allows users of the social network to authorize another person to access or modify their accounts in the event of their death. Google has also added features that represent a concerted effort to tackle the issue. Google’s “Inactive Account Manager” allows you to tell the company what you would like done with you accounts upon your passing, such as gmail, google plus, google drive, google voice and YouTube. These features are an important step in the right direction for the tech-filled world that we live in.
Making steps toward planning for your digital assets can help provide you with piece of mind that you have made provision for you digital assets and they are handled in the manner you intend. The following is a general guideline to further your digital estate plan in the short-term:
1. Make A List of Your Online Assets & the Corresponding Passwords
Your first step should be to make a list of all of your online accounts and list their corresponding passwords for access. If you use a digital wallet application on your phone such as the prepaid Starbucks app, this may be worth adding to the list.
2. Find a Safe Place to Store this Information
Think carefully about where you feel comfortable leaving this information. Naturally it would be a bad idea to put this list in a place where other people, whom you may not implicitly trust, may have access. Suggestions include placing this information in your safety deposit box, or putting them on secure sites such as legacy locker or secure safe, which encrypts the information in one place. The latter location can also be used to store your will or trust document.
3. Create a List of Instructions as to What will Happen to Your Assets upon Your Death
Think about whether you would like your various accounts to be kept open or closed. Perhaps you would like your Facebook account left online as a memorial of your life. It is a good idea to write out in full what you would like to happen to your accounts for everything from your bank accounts to your YouTube accounts. Before you create this list you should check the terms and conditions of the various sites, as such terms and conditions may take precedent over state law. Ensure the executor of your will knows how to obtain the information about your online accounts so to ensure everything is dealt with in a timely manner and there are no unnecessary delays.
4. Choose a Digital Asset Executor
A digital Asset Executor is someone you choose, with whom you have trust and confidence to execute your digital estate plan upon your passing. Think carefully about whom you choose to act for you in this capacity. Also name this digital assets executor in your trust or will so that your intentions are clear. Give your digital asset executor all the necessary information needed for him to carry out your wishes, such as a copy of the digital asset instructions. You should also make your digital asset executor power of attorney over your assets and let him know if you have Google’s “Inactive Account Manager” in place.
Speak with an Estate Planning attorney for further ways to ensure your digital legacy is under your control.