Not too long ago, Americans wouldn’t even consider including their online assets in their estate plans. Today, however, families and individuals would be making a big mistake not to include thorough plans for how their digital assets are managed after their death.
In this modern age, we conduct more and more of our financial, work, social, and creative activities on computers and the internet. We store a huge amount of information on the web, from our personal files and documents to banking information to our Facebook accounts. Online assets are as valuable as our other property and financial information—in fact, studies have found that the average person today has more than $54,000 worth of digital assets stored on the web and computers. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, state treasurers have more than $32 billion in unclaimed bank accounts and other online assets.
What will happen to your digital assets after you die? If you want your online financial accounts, commercial accounts, and social media accounts to be left in the hands of someone you trust, it’s highly advisable to include your digital assets in your estate plan. Below, we’ve included a step-by-step guide to creating an estate plan for your digital assets.
Step One: Determining Your Digital Assets
First, make a list of all your digital assets. This could include computing hardware such as computers, flash drives, smart phones, and cameras. Include your online accounts, such as email accounts, social media accounts, online storage accounts, and bank accounts. After compiling a list, your attorney can help you to store login and password information in a safe place, along with information describing where computers and smart phones are located.
Step Two: Determining How These Assets Should Be Handled
Depending on the type of account and your own personal preferences, you may want some accounts to be archived and saved, or deleted and erased. Others, you may want to transfer into the hands of family, friends, and trusted associates. Your estate planning attorney can help you determine an appropriate method for handling each asset in a way that accommodates your wishes, and assist you in documenting instructions for your digital executor.
Step Three: Choose a Digital Executor
You should choose someone you trust to designate as your digital executor. This person will be in charge of carrying out your wishes pertaining to the management of your digital assets.
Step Four: Store the Information with Your Attorney
It’s important to store the sensitive, valuable information outlined in your estate plane in the hands of a trusted attorney. Tell your digital executor or someone you trust about the plan so they are aware of its existence, and give them the name of your attorney so they know where to find it in the event of your death.
If you own a computer and use the internet regularly, there’s a good chance that you have quite a bit of important information and assets stored online. After you die, you’ll leave behind a digital legacy accumulated over your entire lifetime. To reduce stress and confusion for your survivors during a difficult time and ensure your wishes are fulfilled, you should update or create an estate plan for your digital assets. To begin, contact a skilled estate planning attorney at WintTer & Associates, P.A., who will be able to guide you through the process and safeguard important information until the time comes to release it to your designated beneficiaries.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.