Estate planning in the digital age includes much more than most people realize. Virtually everyone has digital assets, and many of those assets have no paper trail at all.
It is essential to ensure that you account for these assets as part of your estate plan. Otherwise, your loved ones may be left confused and frustrated, and some of your most valuable property could be lost forever. Your estate planning attorney can help ensure that your plan allows legal access to digital assets, but there are also many important steps you can take on your own.
What Digital Assets Do You Have?
To determine the digital assets you need to plan for, think of all the data you have stored on digital devices or online in cloud services. Be sure to include your phone, laptop, flash drives, cameras, and tablets. Remember that you may have several accounts that you access online.
Your digital assets may have monetary value, such as Venmo or Paypal accounts with a balance available. Or your digital assets may be valuable for their personal meaning to you, such as photographs, videos, and email messages. Even if your online accounts do not have any cash value remaining, someone needs to be able to access and close the account after you pass away to avoid the potential for identity theft or fraudulent activity.
Planning for Digital Assets
When you meet with your estate planning attorney, be sure to address digital assets. For instance, your financial power of attorney should specifically allow your agent access to appropriate digital accounts. You might want to mention certain digital assets in trust documents and your will so that your trustee and executor have access to them and to ensure that these assets are not overlooked.
Think about what you have and who you would like to have access to these digital accounts and assets. You may want many family members to have access to family photos but may want to keep access to your digital correspondence and financial accounts much more limited.
Assets to plan for include:
- Online bank accounts with no physical bank branches
- Payment services (Zelle, Paypal, Venmo, etc.)
- Frequent flier miles and loyalty points
- Photos stored on your devices as well as those stored with cloud services
- Websites, blogs, digital documents, and correspondence
- Social media accounts
Make sure to compile a list of assets along with user names, passwords, and answers to security questions. Keep this list with your estate planning documents so it won't be overlooked.
Beneficiary Clauses and Digital Executors
Many online accounts and digital enterprises have made provisions for the transfer of assets or access to others when you pass away. For instance, Apple has created the Legacy Contact feature which allows you to designate someone as a sort of account successor when you pass away.
When you sign up someone as your Legacy Contact, they receive an Access Keycode. After you pass away, your contact person can gain access to your accounts by showing the code and your death certificate.
Talk to Your Estate Planning Attorney About Digital Assets
It will take considerable time to list all your assets and associated information, and then even more time to name successors where each account allows. However, when you think of the alternative—losing all digital assets for good—then you can see it is a worthwhile task.
Your estate planning lawyer can ensure that all legal authority is in place to allow loved ones access to digital assets when you pass away. To schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Charles R. Frazier to review your estate plan, contact us today.