When engaging in estate planning, many people neglect to include their digital assets. You may be wondering- what are digital assets anyway? Digital assets can include online financial accounts, professional websites or blogs which generate income, digital currency (think Bitcoin), online photographs and even your personal, social media presence. You, like most people, likely have these accounts protected with passwords, which could make it impossible for your loved ones to access the accounts in the event of your death.
Because digital assets are relatively new- most courts have not yet caught up with the technology, therefore have no clear legal guidance in such a situation. Your loved ones may not even be aware of at least some of your digital assets, however, with a little foresight you can plan for these digital assets to transfer into the hands of those you would want to have them. While some of these planning steps require no more than writing your passwords down in a notebook and taking inventory of your digital assets, some have legal implications, requiring the assistance of a Centerville, Ohio estate planning lawyer.
Taking Inventory of Your Digital Assets
The first step is to take a thorough inventory of your digital assets. Think of the following when making your list:
- Online savings accounts;
- Online stock accounts;
- Photo sharing sites;
- Your professional website;
- Your personal or professional blog;
- A list of the domain names you own;
- Your medical accounts;
- Your social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest;
- Credit card cash back programs or frequent flyer miles;
- Email accounts
- Online subscriptions;
- Amazon, Ebay, Etsy and Craigslist accounts, and
- Your book, music and video storage or streaming accounts.
Keep your list of digital assets and your password list in a safe place—like your safe deposit box—because from a legal standpoint your heirs could hit a brick wall if they attempt to access files or accounts they are not specifically authorized to access. Your Centerville, Ohio estate planning attorney can help you grant explicit permission to the people you choose which will enable them access to your digital assets.
Decide Who You Want to Have—Or Have Access To—Your Digital Assets
You may want some of your digital assets to simply be archived and saved, while others you might want to be deleted altogether. As an example, you would probably want your digital photos archived and saved, or copied so that multiple heirs could enjoy them, while you might want your Facebook or Pinterest accounts deleted. If you have a business partner, you might want any digital business assets and items to go directly to that partner. If the digital assets have a monetary value—like bank accounts or frequent flyer miles—you will need to designate who you want to have these assets. Do you want revenue-generating assets to go to those who will continue to manage them, or should they be cashed in and divided among those you choose?
Consider Naming a Digital Executor
You might choose a digital executor who will help settle your digital estate in the ways you specify, though this may not be a legally binding or enforceable designation. Speak to your Centerville, Ohio estate planning attorney about formalizing your digital estate plan in a legally binding document like your will or a will codicil, but do not include digital asset access information or passwords in your will, since they become a public document upon your death. You can simply refer in your will to an outside document which contains the necessary information.
Make Sure All Data Stored in the “Cloud” Is Backed Up to a Storage Device
Any digital assets stored in the Cloud should be backed up to a storage device or to the hard drive on your computer on a regular basis. This allows family members or those you designate, to access your digital information with fewer obstacles. Facebook has a One-Click Download option which will download all your FB data to your computer, and other companies have similar ways to back up your information.
Think About How Data Encryption Could Affect Your Digital Assets
In some cases, data which is digitally stored may be encrypted as a means of adding extra security and protection above and beyond your password. Encryption, however, can scramble your data, making it impossible for anyone without the necessary credentials to unscramble the data. As an example, your cell phone—which may potentially have financial data, medical data, and other important digital assets—could be virtually impossible for another person to access without the proper credentials. Keeping your passwords in a safe deposit box can make it possible for your loved ones to access any digital file you would want them to have access to following your death.
Getting the Help You Need With Digital Estate Planning
It is important that you not be caught off guard by the unexpected, leaving your loved ones unprepared. If you need help with your digital estate planning—and your “regular” estate planning—the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lovett & House Co., LPA are here for you. Our attorneys can answer all your questions about your digital estate planning, providing you with the peace of mind which comes from knowing your loved ones are well-taken care of after your death.