Ways to ensure your loved ones can benefit from your digital legacy.
Having a digital estate plan will ensure the safe transfer of online assets, prevent theft of identity or assets, protect personal information, and make the transition easier on family members.
● Many people own a trove of digital assets, which can include anything from domain names and electronically stored photos and videos to email and social media accounts.
● Make a list of your digital assets and passwords so trusted others know where to find them. Back up data stored in the cloud to a local computer or storage device.
● To help protect your online assets, work with an attorney to provide consent in legal documents.
Have you ever wondered what happens to your digital property after you pass away? Who will have access to online bank accounts, email accounts, or even social media accounts? Are these accounts deactivated? Do they disappear? Do they exist in the cloud forever? Who will have control over what happens to them? The answers to these questions lie in the domain of digital estate planning. In the past, estate planning has involved writing a will, designating an executor to finalize your affairs, and passing along your possessions.
Typically, paper documents would be compiled and stored in a safe place such as a locked desk drawer or filed with an attorney. In the modern age of technology, however, estate planning is becoming ever more complicated. With so much vital information stored online, the nature of estate planning has changed. Although you may still have many important documents in paper format, it is likely that much of your financial documents are digitized. It may seem obvious that important digital information such as online bank accounts should be addressed in estate planning, but other kinds of digital assets such as social media accounts, text messages, or even pictures stored in the cloud may have sentimental value for your loved ones. Email accounts and online retail accounts may house critical personal information that you may wish securely kept. Unfortunately, planning for these kinds of assets is typically neglected by individuals and their advisors. In order to ensure the safety and security of this kind of digital information, you will want to create a digital estate plan.
How can a digital estate plan help my family and me?
A digital estate plan can serve several important functions:
• It enables loved ones to locate and access important digital information.
• It may help clarify disputes regarding a final will and testament.
• It protects you and your family from online identity theft.
• It simplifies the transitions for surviving family members
Since digital estate planning is a relatively new concept, there are few laws governing what should happen with your loved one’s digital assets. The existing legal structure for our digital lives was passed in 1986. Since then, limited legislation has been introduced to govern our digital property. Therefore, it is up to you to take measures to protect your digital estate. Taking Inventory of Your Digital Assets In order to begin making a digital estate plan, you will first want to take inventory of all your digital assets.
Your digital assets could include any of the following:
• Social media accounts
• Websites you own
• Online bank, credit card, or insurance accounts
• Online bill pay
• Email accounts
• Online retail accounts
• Stored pictures, music, or other media files
• Online payment mediums (i.e. Paypal, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, etc.)
Designating a Digital Executor
Your digital executor will be responsible for carrying out your digital estate plan. Since your digital executor will be handling such private information, you will want to ensure that the person you select is both responsible and capable of navigating technology. You can name your digital executor in your will and give them Power of Attorney over your digital estate. You can include your digital estate plan as a part of your will, but do not include usernames and passwords. Your will becomes public record after it enters probate and you certainly do not want usernames and passwords to become public information. Just ensure that your digital executor is aware of the secure location in which you have planned to keep your digital inventory,
Writing Your Digital Estate Plan
Once you’ve taken stock of all your online assets, ensured their proper storage, and identified an executor to oversee your digital assets, the final step is to actually write out your digital estate plan. Your instructions should be written clearly so as to eliminate any confusion regarding your final wishes. Create a list of instructions for each digital asset. You may use the fourth column of your inventory table to list these instructions, but you will also want to write them out more explicitly. Be as detailed as necessary to ensure that your loved ones have what they need to carry out your instructions.