Although digital technology has made our lives much easier and more convenient, it has also created some unique challenges when it comes to estate planning. If you haven’t planned properly, for instance, just locating and accessing your digital assets can be a major headache—or even impossible—for your loved ones following your death or incapacity.
And even if your family can access your digital assets, in some cases, doing so may violate privacy laws and/or the terms of service governing your accounts. You may also have online assets that you don’t want your family to inherit, so you’ll need to take measures to restrict and/or limit access to such assets.
Given the unique nature of your online property, there are a number of special considerations you should be aware of when including online property in your plan. Here are four steps you should take to help ensure your digital assets are properly accounted for, managed, and passed on.
1. Make an inventory: Create a list of all your digital assets, along with their login and password information. Store the list in a secure location, and provide your fiduciary with detailed instructions about how to locate and access your accounts. To make them easier to manage, back up any cloud-based assets to a computer, flash drive, or other physical storage device.
2. Include digital assets in your plan: Just like any other property, detail in your plan who you want to inherit each digital asset, along with your wishes for how the asset should be used or managed. If you have any assets you don’t want passed on, include instructions for how these accounts should be closed and/or deleted.
Do NOT include passwords in your planning documents, where they can be read by others. This is especially true for your will, which becomes public record upon your death. Instead, keep this information in a separate, secure location, and provide your fiduciary with instructions about how to access it.
3. Restrict access: Include terms in your plan detailing the level of access you want your fiduciary to have. Do you want your fiduciary to be allowed to view your emails, photos, and social media posts before passing them on or deleting them? If there are any assets you want to limit access to, we can help you include the necessary provisions to ensure your privacy is respected.
4. Review service providers’ access-authorization functions: Some service providers like Google, Facebook, and Instagram allow you to give specific individuals access to your accounts upon your death. Review the terms of service, and if these functions are available, use them to document who you want to access your accounts.
Check that the people you named to get your digital assets using these tools match those you’ve named in your plan. If not, the provider will likely give priority to the person named with its tool, not your plan.
Keep pace with technology
As technology evolves, you should adapt your estate plan to keep pace with the ever-changing nature of your assets. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we know how valuable your online property can be, and our planning strategies are specifically designed to ensure these assets are preserved and passed on seamlessly.