WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOUR DIGITAL ASSETS WHEN YOU PASS AWAY?
Much attention is given to how to handle your personal property after death, in the physical world. What about the digital footprint you have left behind? From cryptocurrency to domain names to online stores to your Twitter feed – do you have a plan in place for each of these digital assets and who will assume ownership or responsibility for termination?
While laws are continually proposed to help manage and make digital estate planning more viable and easier for those left behind, it is still on you to ensure your beneficiaries are aware and prepared to take charge of your digital assets in the event of your death.
Why Should You Care?
For the most part, these digital assets don't have a monetary value (though they could, especially if they are assets you have amassed as part of a business venture). But they do represent a great deal of information about you and your family that you may not want lost, and may not want still circulating freely in the world after you are gone.
Then there is the ever-present nature and vulnerability of social media. We all know someone whose facebook account has been hacked, and whose hundreds of facebook friends have received new "friend" requests allegedly from them. You may not want to leave your account out there with nobody monitoring it, so that your friends and loved ones are not subject to the macabre experience of receiving fake friend requests from you after you are gone.
Take Inventory of Your Digital Assets
The first step: take stock of the digital assets in your name. What is considered a digital asset may surprise you.
Not only does this term include all email and social media accounts, but it could also include your Amazon, Netflix, Hulu or other audiobook account. It includes cloud storage where your photos, videos and texts are backed up. It includes all digital music files you have purchased. It includes e-commerce websites and domain names you own.
Work on compiling an in-depth inventory of every site where you have an account – it’s critical to make sure each account is handled appropriately in the event of your death to prevent identity theft and future challenges for your beneficiaries.
Appoint a Digital Trustee
The individual you would like to handle your digital assets may very well differ from who you’d like to inherit your vehicle or home, and that’s okay. Perhaps you would like to have a trusted friend manage the deletion of social media profiles and email accounts. There may also be different people you want to put in charge of different accounts or assets. For example, if you have a body of creative work stored in the cloud you may want someone who understands your work to be the one who decides what gets preserved and what gets deleted, while it may be a completely different person who is entrusted with making decisions about your social media accounts. If this is what you prefer, it must be clearly stated in your will.
Set Up Access
Under no circumstances should you list username and password information in your will, since after your death this document will become public. There are multiple ways to store online account login information. Something as basic as a password-protected Excel sheet (with the sheet’s password communicated through your lawyer), or something as secure as a digital lockbox could be a good solution. You can also use old fashioned pen and paper, and while the information should not be contained within your will, that piece of paper can be stored in the same place as your will and other estate planning documents so that it is easy for your family to find.
Provide Instructions for Each Asset
After you’ve made a comprehensive list of all digital assets, decide how you would like each account handled.
Any online payment accounts that contain a balance of cash, credits or points may be transferable, but it depends on each platform’s specific user agreement. Some organizations may cancel all benefits upon death, while others operate more like bank accounts, with beneficiaries able to transfer assets to their name.
For social media, the policy varies from site to site. Facebook allows you to input a legacy contact before death and upon your passing, this individual is able to moderate your memorialized profile. They cannot receive or respond to messages. Alternatively, you could choose to have your account completely deactivated upon death.
LinkedIn requires proof of death. Pinterest requires a copy of the death certificate and proof of the petitioner’s relationship with the deceased. Google requires the name of legal counsel as well as full documentation of the individual’s death.
Make sure you are clear in your instructions on who you want to handle these processes, and what you’d like done. While some photos you have stored in the cloud you may want to pass to a loved one, you may rather have personal documents erased.
The Bottom Line
In today’s digital world, estate planning doesn’t only encompass your bank accounts. You need to consider how to handle the digital assets that are your personal property and incorporate a thoughtful approach on dealing with each into your larger estate plan. The team at slnlaw is happy to answer your questions and share effective strategies you may find useful – contact us to set up your free consultation.
slnlaw is a law firm in Sharon Massachusetts providing business, employment law and estate planning services to individuals and small businesses