Digital Estate Planning for the 21st Century

The need for digital estate planning is fairly new, but it’s a significant and growing issue. From ownership of digital assets to control of email and social media accounts, the modern estate administrator has a lot of work to do in the cloud. Unfortunately, estate planning hasn’t fully caught up with this reality, and many people neglect to factor in their digital lives in the estate planning process.

Posted on May 14, 2018

Management of Digital Assets

Digital assets may take many forms. From cryptocurrency holdings that can be accessed only from a particular computer or with a key known only to the owner to digital albums filled with family photos, most estates include at least some digital assets. And, the prevalence of this type of asset is increasing as technology evolves and the population becomes more conversant in and comfortable with that technology.

Deciding who will receive actual assets such as your computer’s hard drive, your cryptocurrency and any intellectual property you’re storing in digital format is just one piece of the digital estate planning puzzle. You will also need to determine who will access and distribute those assets and how. And, you’ll want to provide for management of online accounts such as:

  • Email accounts
  • Facebook and other social media accounts
  • Business and retail accounts—particularly those with stored payment information

A comprehensive plan will help protect the person you entrust with digital asset management from small mistakes with the potential to create significant complications. For example, your representative will ultimately want to close your email accounts. But, if your primary email account is closed to soon, access to other accounts may be affected, since email is the standard means of recovering or resetting passwords.

Your Digital Estate Planning Checklist

While the specific digital assets and accounts involved and your plans for them will vary, this checklist will help you organize your digital assets and assemble the information your appointed representative will need. You can also use this checklist when you are preparing to discuss digital asset planning with your attorney.

  • Inventory all digital assets: Invest some time in this and keep a running list, rather than attempting to finalize your list in one day. Digital assets and accounts are often so varied and numerous that it’s easy to overlook some.
  • Create an organized list: Your list should include not only descriptions/account information, but also information about where the asset or account can be found, user name and password, and any other information required to access and manage the asset.
  • Decide who will receive distributable digital assets: Remember that digital assets often have rights attached. So, simply transferring the files may not be enough—you may need to bequeath the rights to a particular person in your will or transfer them to a living trust.
  • Determine how the assets will be managed: In some cases, you’ll have multiple options as to how to handle a digital asset or account. For example, Facebook and some other social media platforms have a legacy process, but that’s just one way of handling the account. Simply leaving your user name and password will allow your representative to log in and manage or deactivate the account, if that is your preference.

While organizing account information and other details is a good start and will put you ahead of the curve when it comes to digital assets and accounts, legal transfer of ownership may require more than simply providing access to a trusted person. Ask your estate planning attorney about how best to build digital materials into your estate plan.

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