Broker Check

Have You Planned for Your Digital Estate?

January 11, 2022

So you’ve done your will, your power of attorney, your health care proxy, and maybe even a trust or two… You’re done, right? You might think so, but there is one more item that many may not have addressed. Your Digital Estate.

What are Digital Assets? Your digital assets may include anything and everything from[i]:

  • Email Accounts
  • Social Media Accounts
  • Online Banking Accounts
  • Travel and/or Credit Card Points and Rewards
  • Cloud Storage Accounts
  • Photo Storage Accounts
  • Domain Names
  • Online Business Accounts
  • Digitally Stored Intellectual Property
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Other online accounts such as Netflix, Amazon, or even your utilities if you pay them online

For many of us, we have come to rely heavily on technology often paying our bills online, managing our banking and investment accounts online, taking advantage of shopper rewards on our online shopping accounts, and taking and storing our photos on our phone or other device. 

Like your tangible property, your digital property should be accounted for and your wishes for its disposal made known in writing to protect your loved ones and provide them with peace of mind.

So now that you know what they are, what do you do with them?

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer for this question as solutions may vary greatly depending on what assets you have, what the terms of use are and what the state laws where you live provide for.

There are however steps you can take which may help you make sure that your digital assets are dealt with in the manner you choose[ii].

Take an Inventory

Forgetting that Twitter account that you set up and then never used may not have much of an impact on the lives of your loved ones; but not disclosing the log in credentials for the online account you use to pay your utilities may greatly affect your loved ones still living in your home.

In general, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and take a complete inventory of all your online accounts and the credentials needed to access them. You may even want to go through the process of logging into each one to ensure the log in information is correct as well as to include any notes about additional steps needed to log in such as the answers to security questions, whether or not you have two factor authentication (2-FA) and how to access the 2-FA. You should also include log-in credentials for your devices such as the pin on your phone number, or the pattern on your i-pad, as well as the passwords to any password protected files on your computer.

You may also want to use this opportunity to close out any only accounts you don’t use, or to back up any personal mementos such as photos or special emails onto a computer or external hard-drive to circumvent any issues there may be about third parties logging into your online accounts[iii].

It is important to keep this inventory in a secure location whether it is written on a piece of paper and locked in a safe or typed in a password protected computer spreadsheet or password keeper program. In whatever manner you keep your digital asset inventory, do not forget to update it as needed and make sure you include instructions for how to access it in your digital estate plan.

The initial process of starting this inventory may likely take some time, but it will save your loved ones or fiduciary a lot of time, stress and potentially money in the long run.  

Decide How You Want to Leave Your Assets

Perhaps you want to give access to your emails to your spouse so they can look back on your digital age love letters to them, and maybe you want to have your photos dealt with in such a manner that your whole family is able to view and download them if they would like. You may even have things that you want destroyed or shared only with specific individuals.

Just like creating a will or trust for your physical property, you should decide how you want your digital property disposed of. Using your inventory list as a checklist, decide who should have access to what and how it should be handled.

It is worth noting at this point that some online accounts may have some sort of provision for this such as Google’s Inactive Account manager which grants access to a designated third party after a certain period of inactivity on the account[iv]. With Google, you can also designate what types of data you would like to grant your Inactive Manager access to[v]. Similarly, Facebook allows you to appoint a legacy contact who can either delete or memorialize your Facebook page[vi].

Taking advantage of a website’s features to designate trusted contacts may often be the safest route for you and your loved ones especially when you are dealing with accounts which have Terms of Service which may prohibit third parties from accessing or using your account[vii].

Appoint a Fiduciary

Like the executor in your Will, this person will be responsible for carrying out your wishes for your digital estate. Depending on your assets this may be as simple as designating your spouse who simply has to share a few Google Photo albums with some family members, memorialize your Facebook Page, and cancel your Netflix subscription.

For many, it may not be as straight forward though. There may be complex assets such as credit card or travel points, cryptocurrencies, or even business-related accounts. It is important to carefully consider all of your assets and any sort of complexity that may be involved in dealing with them after you are gone, and then to pick the best person for the job.

Note, that if you have used features such as a Google Inactive Account Manager or a Facebook Legacy contact, those designations will supersede any Fiduciary or Executor for your digital estate that you appoint in your estate documents[viii]. Therefore, if you have appointed a fiduciary after designating an account specific third party you may want to update the account specific third party if you would like them to be the same. 

Put It in Writing

This is not as simple as typing up a word document or writing it out on a piece of paper for someone to find at a later point in time.

As fast as technology has moved in recent years though, the laws which allow for the disposal of digital property have not always kept up[ix]. Consulting with your attorney beforehand may be an integral part of ensuring your digital estate is disposed of as you wish, or at least as close as possible to your desires.

The exact method for putting your digital estate plan into writing may vary depending upon the state that you live, but a commonly suggested method is as a note or codicil in your Will[x].

Make sure to not include your entire digital estate plan in your Will, as you may inadvertently share all your usernames and passwords to anyone who bothers to look for it as Wills become public record once they are filed.

Your attorney may be able to advise you on the best method to grant consent to your fiduciary to access your digital assets without violating state and federal laws, and how to safely include your digital estate in your overall estate plan.

Planning for your digital assets may be just as important as planning for your tangible assets, and may do a lot in preventing stress, a loss of money and/or physical property, heartache and even identity theft for your loved ones at a difficult time.

Should you have any further questions and want to talk about cybersecurity and planning for your digital assets, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

Remember, we are happy to help!