In the Information Age our digital presence and assets are just as important as our physical estate. Digital assets consist of all of our property that exists online. This can include brokerage accounts, bank accounts, PayPal, and online currency such as bitcoin. However, our digital presence extends far beyond that into other areas such as social media accounts, email addresses, online subscriptions, documents, photographs, and digital music libraries. Over 75% of all Americans have some kind of social media account or have an account on a social networking website. When creating an estate plan you need to consider what your wishes are for your digital assets as well as how you would like them to be handled.
The first step in creating a comprehensive digital estate plan is to identify and organize all of your digital assets. A simple way to track these assets is to create an Excel spreadsheet. You can break your digital property into categories in addition to having all pertinent user names, passwords, and other information necessary for access. Excel sheets can be password protected, so for those who are worried about other people gaining access to their online accounts a level of security can be added. Other people keep track of accounts and information in a small notebook or other non-digital means.
The next step is deciding who should be the “trustee” of these accounts. This is the person who would manage all of your wishes for your digital property. This person would distribute assets, delete or erase accounts, or continue to manage any digital accounts that you have. Typically, a family member or friend is named as trustee, but the digital assets could be broken into separate groups with a different trustee for each. The best person, or people, to choose are those who will handle the assets according to your wishes.
Providing access to the list of digital assets is also a consideration that must be made. If you choose to organize your assets on a password-protected Excel sheet or lock away a hard copy your trustee needs to know how to access the information or where it is located. For estate planners that are a little more tech savvy, a variety of online companies provide services for storing passwords and other online information. Some of these password manager companies include:
· Lastpass · Dashlane · PasswordBox · Keeper · Password Genie · Passpack · Deathswitch, and others.
The final aspect of creating a digital estate plan is providing instructions in the overall estate planning process. Using language in an estate plan that gives permission to the trustee or explains how to gain access to the digital list is a reliable way of ensuring that they will gain access to your accounts. You can also include as a part of your overall estate plan instructions for inheritance or bequeathing of specific digital assets. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to seamlessly integrate your digital estate plan with your plan for the rest of your physical estate.