The Newest Estate Planning Asset: Your Digital Life

Now that every generation is well-represented in the online world, we all need to consider what will happen to our social media, financial and creative online assets, when we pass away.

Treat your digital assets as you do any other assets during estate planning, and your heirs will thank you for it. That includes creating a notebook or a secure file on your computer with a list of accounts, user names and passwords. Haven’t done it yet? According to Kiplinger in “Leaving Your Digital Legacy,” leaving this part out could cause a considerable delay in their ability to settle your estate.

Most of us live at least some of our lives online. We have email and social media accounts, and we make purchases of digital books and music. We also pay our bills and conduct our banking online.

Unfortunately, much of our virtual property can’t be left to our heirs through a will. That’s because we don’t actually own them—we just have licenses to use those services. Even online accounts like email and social media sites aren’t ours either. Those providers control what happens when our contracts end at death.

Here’s what you can do to prepare to leave your digital legacies: make a list all your online accounts, which might include email accounts, financial accounts and utilities, banking accounts, retirement accounts, mortgages and insurance. Don’t forget any music, photos, or books stored online; any websites, blogs, or licensed domain names, merchants like eBay or Amazon and online communities or listservs where you’ve been active.

Consider what you’d want to have happen to those accounts. Would you want a loved one to have access to your music library or to your photos? What about your emails? Do you want your emails saved or deleted? The same thing is true with your social media accounts. They can be deleted or turned into “memorial” accounts, in some cases. On some sites, you can also have someone post a final status update after your death. With that in mind, you should consider nominating a “digital executor.”

You can allow your digital executor to know where you keep your passwords. Discuss your accounts with your digital executor and leave him or her detailed directions on where and how to find passwords, user names and other essential information.

Depending on the platform, it may be possible for you to include virtual items to people in your will. Speak with your estate planning attorney, so that all of your information on accessing these items is available and can be downloaded.

Another option is to place your digital items in a virtual vault. There are a number of companies that will place all of your digital information, including user names and passwords, on one online platform. Be sure to share this access information with your estate planning attorney and at least one of your heirs.

Reference: Kiplinger (August 2017) “Leaving Your Digital Legacy