84.2% of the United States population use the internet in some capacity. The majority of these users have some type of digital account – often times multiple accounts for various purposes. It is critical in these times to protect those assets.
The extent of one’s digital presence can be extensive. A person’s digital life can be a major proponent in their life so it is important to integrate it into a concrete estate plan. Failing to recognize your social media accounts can have major costs for loved ones, especially if you have a substantial following. This article takes the time to review some basic issues one should consider when incorporating your digital life into your estate plans.
Evaluate All Digital Assets
The term digital asset can mean different things to different people. For one person, it can mean a simple Facebook account used to keep in touch with distant relatives and friends, while for another, it can provide a large pool of customers. Any online account with personal information falls under the branch of digital life, including:
- Social Media Accounts – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Buzzfeed
- Email Accounts – Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outbook, ICloud
- Computer Programs such as Microsoft Office Suite
- Online/digital bank accounts
Digital assets can bring little value to your estate or extensive value to your state. For the social media influencers and online businesses, online assets are key to their brand and success. Having these assets protected under your estate plan can preserve your brand and ensure it is passed down to the proper benefactor.
Create an Inventory
A spreadsheet software such as Google Spreadsheet or Microsoft Excel is perfect for taking inventory of digital accounts. At minimum, you should list these assets by name, username, password, and any relevant details about your usage on these platforms and websites. Keeping this details in one uniform document will make your life so much easier – say goodbye to the forgotten password or incorrect username! It also makes it simple for the individual appointed in your will to track down all your accounts in the instance that you are incapacitated.
With an inventory, privacy is key. Very few people should have access to this inventory. Those who do should be trusted individuals who will not take advantage of this access. One way to protect your digital assets from theft is to keep your document locked until it is called upon when benefactors are given access to your last will and testament.
Who Should Have Access?
Upon completion of your digital asset inventory, you must carefully select who has access to this inventory and/or who has access to which individual accounts. When drafting an estate plan, you must reflect your wishes of who you want to have access to your online accounts. You should also outline what you want done with them. In the instance of personal accounts, it tends to be a bit easier – do you want your account shut down, on the internet but not active, or still active? Most people end up leaving the account on the internet, but don’t require any activity or maintenance. With a business account, an executor is typically appointed to shut the account down, take over the business and affiliated accounts, or transfer ownership of business accounts to a new owner. All of these instructions should be outlined in your estate plan. The executor will also handle the financial aspect of any accounts if necessary. An estate planning attorney will be able to advise you on which option is best based on individual circumstances.
What Happens to Unfinished Work
When people pass away, many leave a trail of unfinished word documents, drafted posts, and open-ended email chains in their wake. A properly drafted estate plan should leave instructions on how this unfinished work should be handled upon your death. It is critical to work with an estate planning lawyer as different options could work for or against your self-interest. This is particularly applicable to people who handle any classified documents/information/work online or have a social media account that accumulates wealth.
Review Website Policies
Any well-versed estate planning lawyer will have working knowledge of website policies for digital accounts on common websites. Reviewing the terms for each account can ensure any assets and property is dispersed or transferred legally. If you follow improper avenues, you put your account at risk for investigation and interfere with transfer of ownership of digital accounts.
Everyone Needs To Consider Digital Assets
In today’s society, the digital world plays a very critical and influential role in our lives. Everyone leaves some kind of digital footprint, whether it be online banking, social media accounts or even email. Creating an estate plan that includes digital asset policies protects valuable information that could otherwise end up in the wrong hands. An estate planning attorney can work with you to create a plan that dictates who you give access to your online accounts and how you want them handled. Everyone should consider digital assets when estate planning.