Do you own digital assets? If you have online bank and brokerage accounts or keep your music and photos stored on your home computer or “the cloud,” then yes, you do own digital assets. And if you do, you should account for those in your estate plan. If you haven’t, your executor, trustee or beneficiaries may not be able to access those without going to court, and may not even realize they exist.
Usually, when someone dies, family members look for personal and business documents, like tax returns, bank and investment account statements, stock certificates, life insurance policies, etc. They may gather up photo albums, safe deposit box keys, and other valuable personal items. Do they know about your digital assets? Where will they find them and how will they access them?
Since many of us have moved to be “paperless,” you may have certain statements you access online but don’t print out or save on your computer. Do you have photos saved on your computer? Do you need a password to access your computer?
Probably the most important questions to answer (and make sure someone has those answers) are:
What social media platforms do you use?
What accounts do you access online and for which you receive no paper statements?
What are your passwords, not only for your computer but for each of these accounts and sites, including your email account?
What would you like to happen to these accounts when you die?
One suggestion is to create a list or inventory of those places or devices where the assets are stored. Make a list of the accounts, web address, account numbers, username and passwords. And make sure someone knows where this list is. I’d also suggest you make sure that list is updated on a regular basis. An alternative to this list is to establish a master password that gives the person you’ve appointed access to a list of password for all of your accounts, either on your computer or through a “password vault.”
There are also companies that offer online services for passing on digital assets to your loved ones. These companies have their own procedures for releasing passwords and other information to your designated beneficiary. They may require a death certificate or other confirmation, or they may release information to your designated representative if you fail to respond to periodic emails.
Identify who you want to have access to these digital assets. Your Executor? Trustee? A family member?
In addition to identifying these assets and giving someone you trust access to them, your estate plan should address ownership issues. You should identify to whom you wish these digital assets transferred.
Upon your death, if you haven’t outlined your wishes regarding these digital assets, each of the social media channels will request legal documentation in order to begin either closing those accounts or transferring them.
This is one area which you may not think about, but you don’t want to put your loved ones in an awkward position of either not knowing what digital assets you own or having to decide what to do with them.
Marie Mirro Edmonds
September 16, 2015