Create Your Digital Estate Plan

Ruder Ware

It seems like our world becomes more digital each day.  We can manage almost every aspect of our lives online.  But, unless you have updated your estate plan in the last few years, chances are good that your estate planning documents do not address what will happen to your electronic documents, e-mails, text messages, blogs, images, videos, and online accounts, like Facebook and LinkedIn, when you’re gone.

Over the last couple of years, Ruder Ware attorneys have incorporated the disposition of these “digital assets” in many of our estate planning documents.  Typically, the digital assets pass to a surviving spouse or children.  Even if your estate planning documents say who should receive your digital assets when you’re gone, how will the recipient(s) know what digital assets exist and how to access them?  It is important to create a digital estate plan to supplement your estate planning documents.

Here are a few tips on how to create your digital estate plan:

  1. Create an inventory of your digital assets.
    Your inventory should consist of two separate lists.  One list should identify the digital asset and the username or account number.  The other list should identify the digital asset and the password.  For example, one list might say that you use a certain e-mail address as your username for your Facebook account, while the other list would provide the password for your Facebook account.  Why create two separate lists?  Identity theft.  If just one of your lists falls into the wrong hands, that person will not be able to access your digital assets.

    You should include the following types of digital assets in your inventory: your Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts; blogs and websites; bank, brokerage, retirement plan, credit card, loan, and insurance accounts; e-mail accounts; online retail accounts and marketplaces, like eBay, Amazon, and iTunes; photo- or video-sharing accounts, like Flickr and YouTube; music websites, like Pandora and Spotify; PayPal and other online payment accounts; utility bills; frequent flier miles websites; document and data storage accounts, like Google Docs and Dropbox; mobile device pass codes; computer access passwords; and any other online accounts.  Keep in mind that this list is not all-inclusive.  Generally speaking, you should include any other accounts that require a password to access your information.
  2. Store the inventory in a safe place.
    You should store your inventory in a safe place because it contains personal information that could lead to identity theft.  Some people choose to store their inventories in a safety deposit box at their bank.  If you choose this option, you also should talk to your Ruder Ware attorney about how to set up your safety deposit box in order to make sure that the recipient(s) of your digital assets can access the box without going to court when you’re gone.  Other people choose to store their inventories on secure websites created for the purpose of securely encrypting and storing sensitive information.  Numerous websites allow a person to upload their documents, encrypt them, and store them for a minimal fee.  Some financial advisors offer a similar service at no additional charge to their clients.  Still other people choose to keep the inventory in a safe in their homes or give the inventory to a trusted person for safekeeping.
  3. Make a to-do list for the recipient(s) of your digital assets.
    Your estate planning documents likely provide instructions for disposing of your financial accounts when you’re gone.  However, you should create a to-do list for the recipient(s) of your digital assets, instructing them how to deal with your non-financial digital assets.  For instance, do you want your Facebook account to be deactivated, or do you want it to remain online as a memorial to your life?  Would you like the recipient(s) of your digital assets to distribute prints of your Flickr photos to family members or friends?  Do you want the recipient(s) of your digital assets to post a final online message to family and friends?

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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