Making a list of personal assets is one of the first things that people do when planning their estate. Included in this list are typically physical or monetary assets such as bank accounts, investments, real estate, jewelry and other personal effects. Usually, digital assets are left out of estate and incapacity planning – an oversight which has real consequences if an individual becomes incapacitated or passes away.
With the advent of email, social media, electronic banking, online investments, and digital vaults, people increasingly have significant and valuable online presences. Many also use digital programs to safeguard family photos and music. As these assets and memorabilia continue to become digitized, there are important issues to be considered in the context of estate planning – such as if, and how, these assets will be accessed upon incapacity or death. Digital assets are often overlooked in a Will or power of attorney because they rarely have monetary value, but including them in estate planning is vital to having agency over how these assets should be managed after your incapacity or death.
Gaining access to your accounts
One of the biggest issues surrounding digital assets is the fact that they are typically username and password protected. If the executors of an estate are not provided with this information, they may encounter issues with accessing the account of a deceased person. In order to address this issue, individuals should consider providing friends, family and/or executors with a detailed list of any and all virtual accounts and the relevant information associated with each account. This list should be stored in a safe, secure place. Family members or executors should be given information regarding access.
Below is a list of common digital accounts to consider:
- Online banking
- Social media
- Sentimental items stored on your hard drive
- Hardware, such as a cellphone, laptop, or tablet, that requires a password
- Online accounts such as Amazon or PayPal
By planning ahead, individuals can arrange full access to digital assets at an appropriate time, and ensure that no valuable or digital property is overlooked.
Social media accounts
Prudent estate planning should also consider what will happen to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts on death. There are different ways in which people deal with such accounts. Some prefer to have the account removed and deleted, whereas others prefer retention – including the option to have certain accounts memorialized. Given these different approaches, it is wise to provide direction to executors in order to avoid any unnecessary issues. The key to preparing for a digital “afterlife” is important to indicate what is to happen with digital assets in writing.
For additional information on estate planning to include digital assets, please consult a TEP.