Rampulla & Newstad LLP

What Will Happen to Your Digital Estate When You Pass Away?

estate digital planning

Even if you are not tech savvy, you likely have a digital “estate” comprised of assets with financial and sentimental value. You probably also have plenty of personal information floating around out there in the digital universe. To protect these assets, and to ensure you don’t leave behind a massive digital mess for your loved ones to clean up, you should organize your online accounts and make sure they can be accessed by your loved ones if you become incapacitated and after you pass away. Most states now have laws granting a decedent’s executor or family members the right to access and manage some of his or her digital assets. However, certain digital platforms do not allow such access, and others have extremely tight security, with two-factor password authentication, confirmation codes, and more. This makes organizing your digital accounts and keeping a record of how they can be accessed extremely important. Here are some examples of the digital assets you might have: While some of your digital accounts might have been inactive for years, others probably play an important role in your current personal and financial affairs. To begin the organization process, ask yourself this: what would happen if you deleted each of your accounts right now? If the answer is “nothing much,” you probably don’t have to make that particular account part of your digital estate plan. For the others, you’ll want to make sure your executor or loved ones can access and manage the accounts if you become incapacitated and after you pass away. To accomplish that, you need to compile a list of the passwords, authentication codes, and other information necessary to access important accounts… and make sure your executor and family know where to find them. The one place you don’t want to provide this information is your last will and testament. Remember, a will is a public document, and anyone can see it if your estate is probated.

Estate Planning and Digital Assets

What happens to a person’s Facebook account when he or she passes away? What about the photos you share on social media, the documents you’ve stored in the cloud, your texts to family and friends? While the law is clear about how to handle physical property when a person dies, it is only now beginning to address the management of digital assets. An article in The Conversation discusses this issue. Here are some of the highlights. Privacy concerns While many legal issues surrounding digital assets remain undecided, people should still consider including them in their estate planning. Access to a decedent’s email is an important consideration. Such messages can be highly personal in nature. What is more, bank accounts, utilities and other accounts may be linked to certain email addresses and messages. Access to this information can help administer a decedent’s estate. Meanwhile, limiting who can access it can protect the privacy of the decedent as well as his or family and friends. So, what planning steps can you take? First, state in writing what you want to happen to your digital assets. List all the accounts in your name, then determine which accounts you want your executor to access and which accounts you want to be deleted. It is important to note that your usernames and passwords should not be listed in your will. Wills become public documents when a person passes away. Instead, keep your access information in a safe place, such as secured password management software. Make sure you leave instructions to your executor about where and how to find them. What about e-books, iTunes and other digital assets? Digital assets like these are ultimately controlled by the provider’s End User License Agreement (EULA). If you’ve actually read your iTunes or Kindle EULA, then you know just how little control you have over your music and e-books. When you hit Kindle’s “Buy” button, for example, you are not really buying the e-book, you are licensing it for your personal use. In essence, your e-books and iTunes are not legally yours so you can’t pass them on to heirs. The law has simply not caught up with the fact that perhaps you have thousands of dollars in digital books and music and would like to leave them to a loved one when you die. For now, the only solution may be to leave your executor instructions on how to access your accounts and then back up your media on external hard drives. With some planning, you can make it easier for your heirs to manage your digital estate and protect both your privacy and theirs. Given that some of your digital assets are today’s version of shoeboxes containing photographs, letters and other personal mementos, digital estate planning can help preserve your legacy. You can read the entire article in The Conversation by visiting http://theconversation.com/estate-planning-for-your-digital-assets-90613