Think about how many online accounts you have. There are a lot, right? Do you have a list of usernames, and passwords? Have you ever thought about how your accounts will be handled, or accessed after your death? Will the cable company continue to take funds out of your account? Will people continue to try to contact you through Facebook or various other social media accounts? Since technology has become a huge role in our lives it is important that it plays a role in your estate plan as well. When making an estate plan, many people consider their investments, real estate, business assets, checking and savings accounts but neglect to make a plan concerning their digital assets. Having a digital estate plan is important to protect your digital assets.
What are Digital Assets?Digital assets “are digitally stored content or an online account owned by an individual”. Examples of digital assets include: Social networking accounts such as Facebook and LinkedIn Email Accounts Retail Accounts such as PayPal and iTunes Intellectual Property you created and shared online. Such as blog posts, photos, videos and graphics With technology moving faster than the law, many individuals and attorneys are left without specific guidelines for effective ways to plan for digital assets after death. There are only 5 states that currently have laws to address digital assets on death: Connecticut Idaho Indiana Oklahoma Rhode Island And even in these states, they don’t cover all of the issues. With this in mind, we have compiled a list of steps to create a fool-proof digital estate plan:
Steps to Creating an Effective Digital Estate Plan
Step 1: Make a List of Your Digital Accounts and PasswordsInclude in your list not only the username and password for each account, but also the web address, e-mail tied to each account, and any special notes you feel are necessary. A list of possible digital assets to include:
- Hardware: computer, external hard drives, back-up drives, tablets, smart phones, e-readers and other digital devices
- Software: Word & Excel documents, Quicken or Quickbooks
- Social Media & Online Presence
- Social networking accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc
- Domain name, blogs and personal websites. Include Website & Blog hosting and registration sites
- Photo or video sharing sites like Flickr, Youtube, Instagram
- Online Accounts: Financial accounts; Email accounts, shopping sites; any website that you pay online that may have your bank information stored on them such as a utility company.
Step 2: Name a Digital ExecutorFind a trusted person to carry out your wishes upon your death. A digital executor should be someone who is responsible and has the technical knowledge to manage this kind of information. Once you have settled on someone, contact your estate planning attorney and revise your will to give this person power of attorney over your digital accounts.
Step 3: Find a Safe Place to Store this InformationBecause your will could become public record when filed at the courthouse, you should not include the list of your digital accounts in your will. Instead, we recommend storing the list of your digital accounts with your will in a safe deposit box. In doing so, you should make sure your digital executor has access to your safety deposit box and is aware of your list.
Step 4: Make a Plan for Your Digital AssetsHow would you like your digital life to be handled after you aren’t present to manage it? Each asset may need to be handled differently so it is important to make a guide outlining what’s happens with each one. Here are some examples of questions to help you prepare instructions for your digital executor:
- Who will inherit your computer and other hardware? Do you want them to have access to the information stored on them?
- Should your social media accounts be shut down or do you want them to remain online as a memorial of your life? What do you want done with any of the photos, videos, or other content you created?
- If you have a website or blog do you want the site to continue or be deleted?
- Who do you want to have access to your email accounts?
- Do you have files stored on cloud services such as Google? How do you want these to be distributed?
Step 5: Consider Other Options Being Offered by Digital ProvidersSome platforms offer methods to take care of your wishes automatically.
Facebook’s Legacy ContactFacebook’s feature called Legacy Contact lets user authorize another person to access or modify their accounts after they die. To access this feature:
- Go on your Facebook home page
- On the upper right corner there is a down arrow, click on that
- Click on Settings in the drop down menu
- Click on Security on the left hand side
- Then click on Edit which is located right of Legacy Contact
- Here you will name someone you want to take over your account