The reality of our world today is that our digital presence survives us long after we are gone. When it comes to listing assets in estate planning documents, many people do not consider the need to include access to their online accounts– namely, banking, automatic bill payments, social media profiles, photo and movie files, cloud storage, online shopping sites, video sites, employee accounts, and email.
Why List Your Digital Assets
You may be wondering: What reasons do I have for including my digital assets and account information in my estate plan? For starters, you might have pictures or documents that you want friends or family to have. There may be private information on your personal computer you want deleted before the computer is sold or given away. Maybe you have a website or a blog you would like to have continue after you are gone. And don’t forget about important or sensitive information that may be stored on your work accounts that may need to be accessed by an employer or client.
However, providing friends and family with your log-in information to these accounts might not be enough; there are laws that exist which can put your loved ones who try to access your accounts at the risk of violating privacy and anti-hacking statutes – or even committing fraud. Here are some steps you can take to protect your digital assets and ensure your loved ones will have access to them.
With innovations in technology happening every day, the laws governing digital assets are continually changing. Be in touch with your estate planning attorney on a regular basis to be certain your estate documents contain the proper legal language and are always up-to-date with the current laws.
Whether you write it down on paper and lock it in a safe or create an online document and store it on a secure sever, it is important to have a list with all your online accounts and the corresponding username and password for each. Just remember to update the list regularly as accounts are added, changed or deleted, and include specific instructions for how you want each account to be managed.
The person (or persons) you designate should be someone you trust to manage your digital assets according to your wishes. Be sure to name them in the proper estate planning documents (consult with your estate attorney for guidance) and provide instructions on how to gain access to the log-in Information for the accounts they are designated to manage.
Unless a financial institution or company who is receiving your payments is notified of your death, the automatic payments you’ve scheduled will continue to be debited from your bank account every month.
Create a Will and name a Personal Representative (PR) to take care of your bank accounts once you’ve passed away; or, if you’re incapacitated, designate an Agent in a Power of Attorney to manage your finances until you are able to do so again.
Thousands of photos and documents are uploaded to social media and cloud storages every minute. Facebook and other social media companies, however, have the option to deactivate and remove your account once they find out that you’ve died – leaving no way for your family or loved ones to access the information you’ve stored. This applies to your email as well. While this may seem cruel, the reality is that helps to protect your family from identity theft after you are gone. Designate a personal representative or trustee to access and manage your social media and email accounts so that your family does not lose access to sentimental photos and memories.
As technology further advances the way our society communicates and operates on a day-to-day basis, more and more people will need to plan for the management of their digital assets and social media accounts at their death. It is important to be aware of the specific laws regulating access to these accounts after you’ve died, as they may change and can differ from one jurisdiction to the next. Make sure your estate planning documents include the necessary provisions which designate a representative to access and manage your digital assets after you are gone.