Digital Estate Planning

A client shared this interesting article & video recently.  It is the story of a man whose mother passed away.  Subsequently, he spent 20 hours trying to locate her various online accounts to appropriately shut them down or to gain access to her online assets, such as airline miles.

Many of us have a plan for our traditional assets in the event of our passing.  What about digital assets? We tend to disregard or forget about these.  Examples of digital assets include emails, texts, airline miles, music files and photos.  Ideally, these accounts should be closed after someone passes to prevent the chance the deceased might become a victim of identity theft.  Anything of value should be distributed according to the deceased owner’s wishes.

In practice, most deceased don’t have information on their digital assets in writing.  Their beneficiaries are left trying to piece together what clues they can find and, in many cases, never get all the answers.  There is some hope that state legislation will help improve the situation, but as it is, only seven states have legislation regarding digital assets in place.

Consider the following tips:

(1) Create an inventory of your digital accounts along with the username, password and email addresses associated with the accounts.

(2) Stipulate what you want your beneficiaries to do with each account, if you were to pass, and whether or not there is anything of value associated with the account.

(3) Prioritize the list.

(4) Read the terms of use agreement for each site.  For example, I did not know that my gmail account would be deleted automatically after 3 months of inactivity.  I now know that I can adjust that time period if I prefer more time. There are also other options I can choose such as having an email sent to my family making them aware of my account and that it has been inactive.

(5) Speak with your estate planning attorney to make sure everything is coordinated with their processes and procedures.

Source:  Bissett, William and Andrew W. Blair.  “Planning Implications of New Legislation for Digital Assets”.  Journal of Financial Planning.  (December 2014): 23-24. Print.

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