“Most people understand the need to protect, and assign, their assets after their death. They know who will care for their children or pets, who will receive the family heirloom brooch, and who will inherit their financial assets. In this day and age, however, there is a new category of assets to consider: digital assets.” (Janet Brewer)
It’s 2013 – do you know what your digital assets are? And more importantly: do you know what will happen to your Facebook page, online bank account, cloud storage of childhood photos, etc. when you’re gone?
“Do you have electronic property that has value? ‘Value’ is a subjective question. It may mean monetary value. However, it can also mean sentimental value. Electronic accounts that contain information of a personal or sensitive nature may also be ‘valuable’ to the extent that it is vital to you to either prohibit or restrict access to such information on your death.”
Then follow these three rules of thumb to incorporate digital assets into your estate plan:
1. Make your wishes known:
“[A] plan might include a comprehensive inventory of such assets, and the relevant login credentials. It would also document your wishes with respect to specific assets, and explore the logistics by which your Executor can secure such assets and fulfill your wishes. For example, you may wish to instruct your Executor to delete your email accounts without reading or publishing the contents, or direct your Executor to access your Facebook account and obtain a download of all of the account contents for the interest and records of your family (currently Facebook accounts cannot be continued on death of the holder).” (Field Law)
2. Don’t force your heirs to rely on an incomplete paper trail:
“… consider the number of accounts you may have for which you have no paper records. As we become more environmentally friendly and try to eliminate paper, we are often eliminating many important records which were once accessible. Would your personal representative know of online banking accounts for which you don’t have a debit card or checks (ie, no paper evidence)?” (Davis Brown)
3. Consider outsourcing management of your passwords:
“In recent years, several companies have established Web-based services that store user names, passwords and other digital assets and make them available to your loved ones according to your instructions. For example, a service might release your information after two or more trusted ‘verifiers’ confirm that you’ve died or become incapacitated.” (Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick)
- Is There Life After Death for Your Digital Assets? - Field Law
- Social Media and Other Digital “Assets” After Death - Davis Brown Law Firm
- “Planning your digital legacy” in The Estate Planner - January/February 2013 - Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP
- Digital Assets: The New Frontier In Estate Planning - Dickinson Wright
- Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter - Where does it go when you do? - Fein, Such, Kahn & Shepard, P.C.
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