Although estate planning has always had its complications, the digital age has added new twists. So much of our lives are now intertwined with our computers, cell phones, and tablets where we communicate and keep records of our assets as well as access to them. When we pass away, having a will may take care of certain property and interests, but what happens to our data on Facebook and Twitter? What about our Google accounts? Our emails? Our photographs? Our other documents stored in the cloud? Does a standard will account for these interests and issues?
What are Digital Assets?
Digital assets include not only tangible property, like our computers, tablets, and cell phones, but also our online accounts, passwords, email accounts, photo and video storage sites, social media web pages, professional websites, frequent flyer miles, virtual reality and identity sites, gaming sites, and other online accounts. Although you can’t touch or see them, these digital assets have real value, and might be a critical part of what you leave behind after you pass away. It is becoming increasingly important that your estate plan include authorization for someone to keep managing these accounts for you after you have passed away.
Appointing a Digital Executor
When you make out a will, you appoint someone as your executor, a person who will administer your will and carry out your intentions regarding distribution of your assets not contained in a trust, life insurance policy, or account that has designated beneficiaries. A standard will, however, may not refer to your digital assets. Even if it did, would your executor have the information he or she needs to find and access these items?
Along with appointing an executor to handle your physical assets, you can add a digital executor unless you are confident that a single individual is capable of handling your normal as well as digital affairs. You might want to consider drafting a digital will that includes all of your personal and digital assets. But it is essential that the person handling your online accounts and interests has the technological experience and skills needed. More practically speaking, he or she also needs the usernames and passwords for these accounts.
The duties of your digital executor may include:
- Looking through your email accounts or simply deleting them and closing them out.
- Setting up your Facebook account so that only friends and family can access it and leave comments or posts for a time before shutting it down.
- Sifting through your photographs and videos. If you have not deleted those that you do not want to be shown, you might instruct your executor to use his/her best judgment in deleting those that remain but also perhaps designate to whom certain videos or photos should be sent.
- A list all the websites and online accounts in your name along with passwords, security questions or other information needed to so that your executor can access and manage them.
Consider a password management website, which will contain a list of your digital assets, along with log-in information. Access to this information can be turned over to a designated person when you pass away. You might also want to research or ask the administrator of a site what happens to your online identity or accounts when you do pass away.
Retain Trusts and Estates Attorney Dan McKenzie
Digital wills are not yet commonplace and many legal practitioners do not advise their clients regarding this intimate and rather sophisticated area of estate planning. Denver estate planning attorney Dan McKenzie can advise and assist you in creating a will with particular provisions that include your digital assets and which outlines your intentions regarding your distribution or shutting down of accounts, emails, and various web sites.
Estate planning in the digital age is here to stay. Its importance will likely only increase. With a properly drafted will and a tech savvy digital executor with the ability and power to carry out your wishes, you can ensure your loved ones will maintain continued access to your valuable data.