Author – Aubrey Lerner
Estate planning typically includes setting up a will, trust, financial power of attorney, and health care directive. But what about your digital assets? Practically speaking, the best way to deal with them is to make a list. Digital assets can include your social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat), pictures, and files saved on devices
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR DIGITAL ASSETS WHEN YOU DIE?
It depends. Some programs have their own policies. For example, Facebook and Instagram allow each user to designate a legacy contact to manage your account after your passing.
Others have user agreements that might permit an Executor to have access, but only upon obtaining a court order. Some programs have no guidelines at all.
Imagine these scenarios:
- Your family wants to search for photos and cannot access your phone. Have you tried calling Verizon or AT&T without the primary accountholder’s password? It is impossible!
- Maybe your legacy contact for your social media accounts predeceased you, and you did not name a backup.
- Alternatively, you may want to specifically prevent someone from accessing a certain digital asset. It makes sense that you might want some family or friends to have access to one digital asset, but not to another, or to none at all.
HOW TO PLAN
The best way to help your loved ones manage your digital assets is to make a list of each one. The list should include your usernames and passwords, the device where each asset is located (i.e., phone, iPad, Kindle, etc.), and specific instructions as to what can and cannot be done with each asset. Lastly, you want to clearly indicate who should be granted the ability to access each asset.
In today’s world, many people sign up for “paperless billing,” or automatic payments online. Leaving behind your email password can help your loved ones avoid a scavenger hunt when searching for your assets.
If you have paperless billing, providing access to your email accounts could prevent outstanding invoices from piling up before anyone becomes aware of a balance due.
One way to deal with digital assets is to mention the assets and provide instructions for each in your estate planning documents. However, it is better and more efficient to keep an ongoing, updated list, that you can attach to your estate planning documents. If your wishes change or the assets or passwords change, you will not have to pay to update your estate plan each time. Instead, you can keep an up-to-date list alongside of your estate planning documents so they are accessible if needed. Sending a copy to your estate plan lawyer is also helpful.
Another reason to make your passwords accessible to a designee is to avoid fraudulent actions by scammers. Leaving an account idle for long periods of time can make it more susceptible to being compromised. As an example, your Amazon account is most likely connected to your credit card. You would not want either to be compromised due to inactivity.
Many sites recommend and even require you to change your password every so often. It can become difficult to keep track of these changing passwords and frustrating to do so even though the added security is beneficial.
The existence of password management systems has made storing and keeping track of multiple passwords easier. 1Password.com and Lastpass.com are two reputable programs. They allow you to store your secure information without leaving it hidden in a cabinet and hoping no one finds it until they need to. You only need to remember one password to access the rest.
From digital assets to complete estate planning and administration, the experienced estate planning attorneys at Deka Law Group can help. Give us a call, and we’ll help you design a plan for the future of your digital assets.