If you participate in social media, store photos in the cloud or have a blog, you have digital assets. Just as you plan for distribution of property and assets in an estate plan, today it is wise to plan for your digital assets as well.
Today’s millennials understand that their digital assets, which include everything from family movies hosted in the cloud, to social media accounts, digital currencies like Bitcoin and domain names, have value that can be passed to others when they die. One young man created a will that listed all of his digital assets and used a password manager to gather all passwords in a central location. He gave the password manager to his brother, who is his estate executor. He also moved certain digital assets, particularly photos and movies, to a file sharing service so that other family members would have access to them in the event of his demise.
Many people neglect to include digital effects in their estate plans, which can be a huge mistake, as valuable assets may go unnoticed, or money and time might be spent attempting to find them.
There are some assets like digital currencies, video game characters, and Internet domain names that exist only in cyberspace. You can’t put these in a safety deposit box: they can be overlooked because they aren’t as tangible. These days, folks are acquiring more digital assets like Facebook photos or email addresses all the time. However, getting access to social media accounts can be difficult because laws governing digital assets vary by state. Online sites concerned with user privacy have drastically different terms and conditions that sometimes exclude executors.
Create an inventory of your online accounts and their passwords—but don’t include them in your will. Wills should not be changed as often as you change your online account information. Simply explain how you want each account handled if you die, with the terms and conditions for each site included. Save this inventory in an encrypted file, a safe, and with your estate planning attorney. You should also authorize your executor to obtain access to devices and online accounts and reset passwords.
Keep your photos on a computer or local storage device rather than an online site so they’re easier to retrieve. Better yet, save them on two storage devices in separate places, like a home safe and a lawyer’s office.
Some assets can’t be passed on to heirs. An iTunes library can’t be passed as digital music and e-book purchases are nontransferable because they’re licensed to the user. You can only leave these assets if a user agreement permits it.
The wise person will make this process as transparent and easy as possible for their heirs. As time goes on, more of our lives will be digital and this will become even more important.
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Reference: New York Times (November 11, 2015) “Plan Your Digital Legacy, and Update Often”