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Estate Planning For Digital Assets

Take a moment to consider all of the assets you manage online. Do you keep track of your bank accounts on the Internet? What about your retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s? If you are like many Americans, your daily financial activity - along with many other aspects of your day-to-day life - is housed in various online accounts.

As valuable information is contained in these accounts, have you considered what will happen in the event of your passing? Despite the huge amount of information stored online - generally referred to as digital assets - most people fail to make any plans for these assets when creating an estate plan.

What Are Digital Assets?

Digital assets include not only tangible property, like our computers, tablets, and cell phones, but also our online accounts, passwords, email accounts, photo and video storage sites, social media web pages, professional websites, frequent flyer miles, virtual reality and identity sites, gaming sites, and other online accounts. Although you can’t touch or see them, these digital assets have real value and might be a critical part of what you leave behind after you pass away. It is becoming increasingly important that your estate plan include authorization for someone to keep managing these accounts for you after you have passed away.

Make Your Estate Plan Digital-Savvy

1. Make a list: One of the first steps you can take in planning for your digital assets is to write them down in a comprehensive list. To ensure you do not forget certain assets, consider breaking them into categories, including:

  • Financial accounts
  • Insurance accounts, including life and health insurance
  • Email accounts
  • Social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Digital Property (domain names and virtual currency) 
  • Miscellaneous accounts

Financial accounts include not only bank accounts, but also retirement and other savings accounts, such your 401(k). In addition, you will want to include information regarding loans and debt, such as your mortgage account and credit card information.

Other, miscellaneous accounts for which you may want to provide information include reward programs for airlines and hotels and other sites, such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and PayPal.

2. Understand what you really own: There are instances where you may have thought you purchased a digital asset, but in fact you purchased a nontransferable license to use the asset. That’s the case when you buy music on iTunes®, according to the terms you agree to when you make the purchase. There may also be limitations restricting the number of times you can burn the music to a CD. 

3. Back up data stored in the cloud: If you store any digital assets in the cloud, back them up to a local computer or storage device on a regular basis so that family members and fiduciaries can access them with fewer obstacles. Some companies, like Facebook, have a One-Click Download option to download all your data to a computer.

Talk To An Estate Planning Attorney

In addition to documenting the existence of your digital assets, you will also likely wish to provide some instructions regarding their management upon your passing. Rather than attempting to do so on your own, it is a good idea to enlist the services of a skilled estate planning lawyer. As an attorney, Steve Kaestner can help you identify the appropriate type of estate planning document - often a will or trust - to account for all of your assets, including those found online.

If you have not planned for the management of your digital assets in an estate plan, you should take the time to talk to Steve or Jordan (J.D., paralegal). A legal professional will ensure you have an appropriate plan for all of your online accounts and assets.