In our last blog post (click here) we discussed the reasons why it is important to include digital assets in your estate plan. Now let’s talk about how you take action and begin that process!
Make A List
To start, make a list of all of your online accounts, technological devices, and other digital assets. The types of digital assets you own may include:
- Social Media Accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest
- Email Accounts: both personal and work email accounts
- Online Financial Accounts: banking, investment, retirement; accounts used to pay bills
- Digital Devices: computers, phones, tablets
- Online Business Assets: a business website’s content, a domain name, blog, etc.
- Intellectual Property: copyrights, trademarks, or patents to which you have rights
For each asset, identify the content, location, username and password. Keep this digital asset inventory in a secure place, such as in a safe or safe deposit box, encrypted digital file, or with your attorney. Most people do their banking online, pay their bills online, and can access their investment and retirement accounts online. That means this information can be incredibly useful for your power of attorney agent, executor, or successor trustee of your estate when they are tasked with managing your affairs when you are incapacitated or settling your affairs upon your death.
Let Trusted People Know Where to Find It
Be certain to inform at least one person that you trust (such as your executor or successor trustee) that you have created a digital asset inventory and where it can be found. For that reason, it is crucial that any login information and account numbers are accurate and updated. It makes little sense to have compiled such a list if it cannot be found or accessed.
Some Digital Assets Need Special Attention
Some of digital assets require special attention. For example, you have the option with social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to either have the account memorialized or removed. A memorialized Facebook account, for example, allows your friends to still see pictures of you and photos you posted as well as post messages on your wall in remembrance of you. Alternatively, you can have the account deactivated and removed. In order to deactivate or memorialize a social media account, the providers usually require proof of the individual’s death and may require proof of the individual’s authority to act on the decedent’s behalf. Email accounts, such as those through Gmail and Yahoo, have similar requirements for any requests to close an account.
If you own intellectual property rights, potentially through any business you own or are involved in (both online and those businesses with an online presence) you should decide whether you want these rights managed or transferred upon your incapacitation or death, and include such indication in your estate plan. The same goes for any websites, blogs, or domain names you own.
Get a Digital Asset Audit
Figuring out what digital assets you have is an important first step in designing any plan to avoid the pitfalls of what could happen to them upon your incapacitation or death. The next step is to consult an estate planning attorney in your area who can help you audit what you have and give you an analysis walk through a digital asset by asset analysis. Remember, these assets have both monetary and sentimental value. As a result, you should give some good thought as to how they should be closed out or managed (and by whom) in the event you are no longer able to be at the helm to decide. Whether it is through a will, a power of attorney, or setting up a trust, you can customize the best strategy for you, your family, or you business well in advance and ensure your digital estate is protected today and in the future.
Kevin Snyder is the owner of Snyder Law, PC, an Irvine, California based estate planning firm that helps families, business owners, and veterans protect their loved ones, assets, and digital assets through customized estate planning solutions.