When we think of estate planning, traditionally assets like cars, homes, art collections and other valuables come to mind. In recent decades, however, the advent of technology and the internet has brought nearly limitless storage for information, pictures, videos, music, money, and therefore, many different types of assets. While some of these things may hold monetary value, others may be priceless only to our hearts. The intangibility of these types of assets has raised the question of whether or not we possess any type of control over them once we pass away. Fortunately, just like a car or summer house, digital property has also earned its place in modern estate planning.
What Are Digital Assets?
Digital assets often include social media accounts, email accounts, blogs, websites, accounts on music, photo, or video-sharing sites, online shopping accounts, digital wallets such as PayPal, and virtually any other information that can be stored and accessed electronically. It also includes computing hardware and digital devices such as computers, hard drives, and phones. Some of these may or may not hold monetary value. Any digital property which generates revenue or stores or manages money has monetary value. Digital business property is any digital property owned by a business organization, including online accounts, assets of an online store, client information, and customer history.
Leave Instructions Behind
The first, and arguably most important, step in creating a digital estate plan is compiling an exhaustive list of all of your digital assets and their passwords (or other means of accessing them). Along with each asset, you must detail how you want each asset to be handled. If you choose to transfer an asset, such as a blog, you must clearly name the beneficiary. You may also choose to delete some of your digital assets. During this stage, it is important to consult the website or the company’s terms of service. Some companies place limitations on who can access social media accounts, or may have specific protocols which need to be followed when terminating accounts. Be mindful of the fact that some of their rules may override your state laws.
Make Sure To Designate A Beneficiary
Just as it is necessary to name an executor to oversee the distribution of your assets in your will, it is just as important to do the same for digital estate plans. This person is in charge of handling your digital assets as per your will, whether that means deleting accounts, downloading, transferring or converting files, managing social media profiles, and any other duties that may be stated in the estate plan. It is imperative that you provide accurate passwords and clear, step-by-step instructions for each of your digital assets, so that your digital executor may fulfill your desires as closely as possible. It is also advised to select a person who is computer literate or “tech savvy” to serve as your digital executor.
It is important to account for your digital assets for reasons similar to if you were dealing with real property. As with estate plans for tangible assets, if you do not have a trust or will that outlines what will happen to your digital property, it will have to go through probate, and may not end up in the hands of the person you intended. If your will or trust does not account for your digital estate, you may place your family and loved ones in a difficult situation in the event that they are unable to manage your digital assets properly. Accounting for digital assets in your estate plan helps protect your family from financial inconvenience, emotional burdens, and lengthy probate proceedings. In addition, ensuring that your digital accounts are managed properly or deleted can help prevent identity theft and prevent unnecessary charges from things such as subscriptions or even worse, post-mortem fraud. If you own any amount of digital assets, consult with a licensed estate planning attorney who will guide you through the process of making sure your assets are properly accounted for in your estate plan.