Estate planning in the digital age
Estate planning

Estate planning in the digital age

Surprisingly to say, we live a huge part of our lives digitally in recent times. Almost everybody has one or more emails, Facebook accounts, twitter, Instagram, websites, online financial platforms, cryptocurrency accounts amongst a host of other assets. Just as one would include houses, cars, bank accounts, copyrights, and other tangible and intangible assets in his or her estate plan, there is need to include these intangible digital accounts (assets) as well so long they are in your name. At your death, who gets access to your mails, websites, and other cloud-based assets?

Most banks allow you to designate a “pay-on-death” beneficiary who, at your death, would be granted online access to your bank accounts. But a plethora of other digital assets do not provide this form of automatic estate planning for transfer on death, and for such assets, one would have to create an estate plan to take care of their disposition.

What are my digital assets?

Digital assets include any of the following:

  • Websites and Blogs
  • Online financial accounts (including insurance, brokerage, credit cards, and retirement plans)
  • Digital wallets and prepaid apps
  • Digital devices such as computers, flash drives, digital cameras and smartphones
  • Online currency (Cryptocurrency, bitcoin etc)
  • Social media accounts
  • Online retail accounts and apps
  • E-mail accounts and text messages
  • Online accounts for bill pay, banking and investments
  • Photo and video-sharing sites (Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo)
  • Software, music, movie, and television show collections (Netflix, iTunes, HBO)
  • Phone passcode.

Rising up to the times

Estate planning and probate laws have over the years evolve to keep up with the changing tides as a result of incessant outburst of cutting-edge technology. In likewise manner, some websites and companies responsible for managing these online platforms and assets have stepped up to meet up with the fast pace of estate planning. Facebook, for instance, has a private user agreement by which you can designate someone who take over access and ownership of your account at your death. Other websites such as Google have such policies in place, but the majority of websites today do not incorporate this into their build-up.

Estate planning in the digital age is a relatively new aspect of the law and data on this topic is still relatively sparse. But one thing is for sure: after your death, your assigned personal representative or estate executor appointed by the court would require access to all your estate assets and this includes your “electronic” estate. This authorization is completely exclusive to the personal representative and as such, passwords to your emails and all other accounts should be kept in a safe private place and should never be written in the will. This is because wills are public and you wouldn’t want everyone having easy access to your private life.

How then do I go about estate planning for my digital assets?

  • Make an accurate documentation of all your digital assets, log in usernames and passwords as well as their location. To enable you keep all of this information in one place, you may set up an account with a digital password manager.
  • Designate a digital executor to your digital assets. You are to provide your digital executor with log in details and passwords to your accounts, websites, emails, etc. And provide instructions on how he or she is to manage these online platforms after your death.
  • Your email is one of your most important digital asset as it often contains a host of log in information to other online accounts which you may be handling, including banking and bill payment. Ensuring that the password to your email account is accessible to only your most trusted loved one or Digital Executor at your death.
  • Remember that not all of your online assets may be well handled by one person. In fact, it may be risky putting everything into a single individual’s hands as a wide range of personal information are often stored online. Consider what your wishes are. You may leave your social media accounts to be handled by one person, while your online business may be better managed by another. Designating multiple Digital Executors becomes ideal.

As hard as it is to think about death, protecting all assets — whether tangible, intangible, or digital — is highly essential for you and your surviving family. While you may have certain wishes concerning these things, your wishes may be ineffective without legal backing. If indeed you are ready to begin estate planning for your digital assets, then it is advised you consult an estate planning lawyer as soon as possible for their legal assistance.

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