There are many digital assets that frequently make the news, such as Bitcoin, but what about the less complicated digital assets, such as family photos? Those should also be considered when creating your estate plan, according to The Eagle in “Your digital estate: 3 tips for the seasoned crowd.”
There are some important steps to take to protect your digital life, including e-books to social pages to your finances. Most people know they need to double check their account titles, wills, trusts, insurance policies and powers of attorney, but they don’t all realize how much of their lives is conducted online.
Digital estate planning focuses on organizing digital assets of all kinds and making the correct arrangements for what will happen to them, after you either pass away or become incapacitated.
You don’t own any cryptocurrency? Do you have a Facebook page? Have you ever created a website or a blog? What about a LinkedIn profile? See—you have digital assets. You need a plan.
The best way to start, is similar to what you do with tangible assets. Start with a list:
- Hard assets, including computers, laptops, digital readers like Kindle or Nook, smart phones and external data storage drives.
- Social media and networking sites—everything from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Be sure to also include any gaming websites.
- Online data storage accounts, like Dropbox.
- Domain names, regardless whether you built a website for the name.
- Intellectual property
There’s sentimental value to many of these accounts, like the photos stored in the cloud. There’s also practical value. If you pass away and your family is widespread and connects regularly on social media, would it be helpful for a family member to log into your social media accounts and share information about your passing? We used to have obituaries published in local newspapers, but today we post information online.
There may be financial value as well. If you own a website that contains copyrighted material or intellectual property, you will want an executor to gain access. You’ll also want to address the issue of your emails, especially if you are a business owner.
The next step is to review the list and see what, if any accounts, you don’t use anymore and would like to shut down. Then begin looking at each digital account you have and find out how each platform addresses access, after the owner has died or become incapacitated. Facebook allows users to memorialize the account and preserve the space for friends and families to share memories. Twitter allows immediate family members to deactivate the account, as long as proof-of-death can be documented. Google has an Inactive Account Manager service that permits the account to be transferred to a designated person, after a certain period of account inactivity.
Social media websites are increasingly aware of the issue of account owners dying, and every platform has its own process, so you’ll need to go through each, one by one.
You may also want to name a digital executor. This is not, as yet, a legally enforceable role, but it will make winding things down much easier. Your digital executor will need your passwords and user names, but they will not be able to simply log in and make changes using that information.
An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and can include your digital assets.
Reference: The Eagle (Nov. 8, 2018) “Your digital estate: 3 tips for the seasoned crowd”