It is undeniable that we are a digital economy. According to Pew Research Center, approximately 87% of our population uses the internet. This means that an overwhelming majority of Americans are relying on electronic networks for regular methods of communication, organization and life management. But what happens when we die? Traditional estate plans focus on real estate, bank accounts and valuable tangible items. But, if you generally conduct online banking and/or investing, have a social media account, own digital media such as photographs or music, it is likely that your plan must be updated to include post-mortem management of these “digital assets.”
Thus, is it important to make your estate plan digitally apt. The following recommended steps can help you achieve this:
- Make a list.
Write down and store in a place where your trusted people can locate a list of all of your digitally significant information. For example, a list of online accounts and respective logon and password information, such as email, social media, PayPal, banking and investment accounts as well as digital property (including domain names and virtual currency). Store your list in a secure location and make sure your family members know how to access it.
- Understand what you really own.
There are instances where you may have thought you purchased a digital asset, but in fact you purchased a only a license to use the asset. That’s the case when you buy music, movies or books on iTunes®. Meaning, there may be a limitation to how many times you can download or upload the content to a CD or flash drive.
- Provide consent in legal documents.
Work with an estate planning attorney to update your wills, powers of attorney, and living trusts. They should include language giving lawful consent for providers to divulge the contents of your electronic information to your selected people. You also might consider exactly which information you want to make available because you may not want to make all digital assets accessible to your fiduciaries.
Planning for these issues today will help to release the burden on your family later and likely eliminate disputes that could arise if you fail to legally declare how and who you would like to manage your digital assets. If you have any questions or would like to address any of these issues, consult with one of our qualified attorneys. It could be as simple as a one page document prepared by us which will provide consent to release as much or as little digitally stored information as you like to whomever you like.