Estate planning has never been a simple endeavor, but with the advent of digital assets, it’s become an even more complex endeavor. A recent article from The Street, “Don’t Let Your Digital Assets Die with You,” looks at some of the main issues with creating a plan for your digital legacy.
One of the main problems with planning for digital assets is that the assets themselves are so varied. A digital asset could have monetary value, such as a blog with advertising revenue, a domain name, reward programs, digital currency like Bitcoin, or even virtual currency or items purchased in online games or apps. Even PayPal, iTunes and Amazon accounts could all have monetary value.
Then there are other assets that may not have monetary value, but could have emotional value for your loved ones. Those could be social media accounts, digital photos or even curated playlists on music streaming services such as Spotify. And it can certainly be a surprise for some families to discover they have to comb through and close online dating profiles for a loved one!
It’s important to think through now who you would want to access these accounts after your death and the emotional impact on loved ones. But while your tangible assets like bank accounts, retirement plans, home and possessions are governed by longstanding state and federal laws, not every state has laws governing the passing of digital assets. On top of that, terms of service agreements and privacy laws make digital assets difficult for heirs to access.
However, federal privacy laws do allow for individuals to request third party access to online accounts from online account providers. Given lawful consent, companies may allow a fiduciary access to an account. However, much like the company-specific idiosyncrasies we see at financial institutions with alignment of tangible assets with an estate plan, each service provider may have their own policy regarding a fiduciary’s access to an account.
So where do you begin? Well, you start the same way you would with tangible assets: you create an inventory of assets. Create a list of all accounts, usernames and passwords. One option is to use a password manager, which remembers account username and password information for you and requires you to remember only one password. That could be very helpful for your family down the road.
From there, look into the specific policies of the service providers. It may be as simple as a Google search or as complicated as reaching out to the service provider to ask, but you should definitely look into any existing policies. You never know; it could make your planning that much simpler!
Many think that planning for a digital legacy doesn’t apply to them and that they don’t have any money tied up in it. But it’s not just the monetary value of these assets, it’s the emotional significance of photos, videos, or even social media profiles. Additionally, a 2013 study by McAfee valued the average consumer’s digital assets at over $35,000. All those digital music and movie purchases can really add up!
As the laws around digital assets are still developing, it is wise to regularly review your digital assets as well as tangible assets with your estate planning attorney. You don’t want to miss opportunities to plan now and minimize some of the stress on your family at your passing.
For more information about Family Estate Planning Law Group and our unique process, explore our website and contact us to schedule your consultation today!
Reference: The Street (September 28, 2016) “Don’t Let Your Digital Assets Die with You”