Friday, May 31, 2013

A "How To" Estate Plan for Your Digital Assets

The last two posts introduced what digital assets are, the importance of planning for them, as well as some obstacles that exist.  Please take a moment to read them HERE.  In this final post we will explore a few solutions that have been developed to help with planning for digital assets.

“After you pass away, the everyday things in your life will become significant to your friends and family.  No matter how simple, your digital content is no exception; in many respects, it may become even more valuable.”  Evan Carroll, Your Digital Afterlife.  We know that planning for digital assets is important.  Now how do we do it?  While there is no single answer, a combination of options may help.

The very first step is compiling a list of all websites where accounts are held.  For each website, read the terms of use or find out how each website handles the account and the data within it upon death.  Do they let you choose who can access the account?  What documentation is required to grant access to an heir?

Second, research the laws in your state.  Are there any existing laws governing digital assets?  If there are, do they cover access to any digital account AND access to any digital assets held within the account.  If no laws exist, speak to legislators in your state to voice concern. 

Estate planning attorneys can also be an asset.  Visit with your estate planning attorney about including language in your last will and testament to express your desires about management of your digital assets.  Do you want the executor to also handle access to your digital accounts and digital assets?  Do you want to leave a memorandum with instructions for digital assets and their access, handling, distribution and disposition?

Services and technology solutions have been introduced to try to address this growing area of need.  There are programs for the purpose of storing usernames, passwords, and other documents in an encrypted format.  Some of them are strictly for the purpose of making a record of all accounts and access to each that cannot be used during life.  Upon receipt of a death certificate they will release all information to the authorized individual. 

“In its simplest form, a digital legacy is a summation of the digital assets you leave behind for others.  As the shift to digital continues, the digital assets left behind will become a greater part of your overall legacy.”  Evan Carroll, Your Digital Afterlife.  A complete plan uses several of these options in conjunction.  Visit with loved ones, your financial advisor and your estate planning attorney to begin developing a plan to ensure that your digital legacy continues—your way. 
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