It seems like almost every week there is a new type of technology or social media platform out there for us to try. Many of us have expanded our online footprint, especially as the world has changed in these past couple of years and our use of “digital assets” (such as social media, email, online photos, and document storage), has increased dramatically. The importance of the assets stored online has also changed – perhaps this is the only place you now store vacation photos or maybe you only receive your bank or investment account statements online instead of in the mail. Your online footprint continues to grow as technology expands, and with that growth comes the need for your estate plan to address your digital assets and provide powers to your fiduciaries as needed. To the extent your online accounts contain information that you would like someone to be able to access after your death or incapacity, it is necessary to provide the appropriate authority for such access, as well as instructions about what you want done with these digital assets.
For some types of digital assets, estate planning strategies are especially important to prevent financial loss. For digital assets such as a domain name used for business purposes or online content you created, it is important your fiduciary has express authority to access and manage these assets if you become incapacitated or after you pass away. In addition, for digital assets such as online accounts, your fiduciary needs authority to make bill payments and access investment account information. Estate planning strategies are also essential to allow access to valuable digital assets (such as bitcoin or an author’s manuscript that is stored electronically). Here are 5 tips to manage your digital assets using a combination of technology and proactive estate planning.
- Review the terms of service agreements for the online accounts you use. Take note of the terms those agreements provide about access, and if and how others can be given permission to access your account.
- Outline your wishes. You should list your intentions for each asset or account, such as whether an account should be deleted immediately or archived for a certain period of time, or how an asset with monetary value should be distributed or maintained.
- If an online entity offers a way for you to give permission or access to your digital assets stored with that company, use their directions to set up online access to those specific accounts. For example, Facebook allows you to designate a “Legacy Contact”, who can either manage your account or delete the account once you pass away. Google allows you to control what happens to your account through their “Inactive Account Manager” option. Through Google, you can designate when your account will be considered inactive and what should happen to your Google account if inactive. You can also designate one or more people who will have access to whatever portions of your Google account you choose.
- Update your estate plan documents, specifically your Power of Attorney, Will, and Trust, to ensure those documents grant express permission for the fiduciaries named in those documents to access your digital assets, as well as express direction regarding what should be done with specific digital assets at death.
- Keep a current list of your usernames and passwords in an online password manager or recorded in another way where a trusted person can access this information if needed, and let that person know where this information is located. At our practice, we provide our clients with a Digital Assets Memorandum that can be used to record access information and instructions about digital assets.
If you would like to learn more about digital assets and estate planning or would like to create an estate plan that includes digital asset provisions, please call us to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced attorneys.
Attorney Megan L. Bartholomew is an associate attorney with the Dedham law firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit our website at www.ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
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