In today’s day and age, everything we do is digital. We don’t have photo albums anymore because we have online photo galleries. We don’t have to go to a bank because we can deposit money and make changes to our account digitally. We don’t even have to talk on the phone anymore because we can communicate through multiple social media sites, reaching as many people as we wish.
So what happens to this online information – or digital assets – when you die?
If your online presence was suddenly deleted, it could potentially be devastating. Even though email, online shopping, bank accounts, photo sharing, and social media profiles are a part of our everyday life, they’re not always considered when estate planning.
But your online information and presence is not only important, it can also be valuable. So in the event of your death, you might want to consider putting your digital assets into your estate plan.
Here are 4 steps to help you get started on planning for your digital assets.
1. Create an inventory of all your digital assets
Identifying and creating an inventory of your digital assets is a necessary first step in your plan. Not only do you need to make a list of these assets, but you also need to include passwords and other necessary information to access these accounts and profiles.
Types of digital assets may include:
- Any files or information stored on a computer, hard drive, flash drive, smartphone, tablet, e-reader, digital music player, digital camera, or any other digital device
- Any data or information that is stored electronically, online or in the cloud, e.g. Dropbox or Google Drive.
- Online accounts like email and other communications, financial, social media, shopping, photo and video sharing, video gaming, online storage, websites, blogs, subscriptions, memberships, and so on.
There are a number of ways you can compile this information. One of the easiest might be to make a spreadsheet with all of the information necessary to log in and access the digital assets. Be careful with any document that contains password or security information, though. An easy fix for this might be to password-protect the spreadsheet you create.
Because Facebook is so integrated with our everyday lives, they have created an option where you can designate if you’d like your account deleted or memorialized in the event of your death. If your account is memorialized, you can assign a legacy contact to look after your account when you die.
Google also has measures in place to manage your digital afterlife.
2. Appoint a trustee or digital executor
This may be a difficult decision, but you need to name a trustee or digital executor for your digital assets. This should be a person that you trust and will handle the responsibility in accordance with your wishes.
Not only is this a difficult decision, but you may not be comfortable providing all of this pertinent, secured information to someone right away. Instead of giving someone all the information immediately, perhaps give him or her instructions on where to find it for when it becomes necessary.
3. Keep your information in a secure but easily accessed place
Our digital assets contain sensitive information that we don’t want compromised. For this reason, it’s crucial to keep this information in a safe, secure place. You could keep this information with your attorney, an online storage service, or in a locked cabinet or safe. By protecting this information, you can be assured that it won’t fall into the wrong hands.
But it’s also important to make sure that the information isn’t so secure that it can’t be accessed. Make sure to let a few people who you trust know where this information is located, so that when the time comes, they will be able to access it and do what you want with it.
4. Make it legal
Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to see how you can formalize your digital estate plan. You may be able to name a digital executor in your will or at least let the traditional executor of your estate know whom to contact about your digital assets.
Under no circumstances should you put any sensitive information or passwords in your will, though. After you die, your will becomes a public document that anyone can access or read.
Estate planning can become complicated once we start compiling both our digital and traditional assets. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney can help you understand the laws and your rights in order to create an estate plan that will reassure you that your assets will be protected.
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.