Planning For Your Digital Estate
We often consider property and health care when we think about estate planning. But in the modern world, a third domain of planning has emerged: digital asset estate planning.
Digital assets include documents, videos, and photos stored on one's computer or online "in the cloud"; digital rights to content such as movies and music; social media profiles and data; email account access and data; and more. In many cases, digital assets are personal, private, sensitive, sentimental, and often valuable. For example, a popular social media profile has a significant financial worth due to potential or actual advertising revenue.
Some companies have already rolled out tools for digital asset advanced planning. For example, Google allows users to make a plan for what will happen to data if you cannot access the account after a specified period of inactivity (three months or more). You choose who to notify and what to share or if your inactive Google account should be deleted.
Such tools are helpful, but they are limited in scope. So the next time that you review your estate plan, consider the following planning techniques:
(1) Update Power of Attorney documents (if any) to specifically address digital assets and accounts in a way that fits your wishes.
(2) Help your representative tend to your digital affairs by maintaining an up-to-date inventory of critical digital assets. This inventory should be located with your side letter of instruction and might include:
- The name of the digital asset;
- Username, password, PIN, security questions and answers, and/or two-factor authentication information; and
- A note specifying what you want to do with the asset (e.g., pay the bills and close the account, delete the account, copy the photos and distribute to specific persons, etc.)
For your convenience, click here to download a Letter of Instruction, a comprehensive list of information to supplement your estate plan.
Note that "Password Managers" such as LastPass and Dashlane can be helpful and relatively secure repositories for much of this information.
(3) If digital assets are valuable or otherwise significant, consider assigning ownership of your digital assets to a special "digital asset trust," see Beyer & Cahn, When You Pass on, Don't Leave the Passwords Behind: Planning for Digital Assets, American Bar Association Probate and Property Magazine, Vol. 26 No. 1.
For an overview of the digital estate landscape, be sure to click the link below to watch the webinar recording, "Protecting The Ones You Love."
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