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. We use our on-line life for so many things: family photos and movies, music, e-books and managing website domains. Have you ever wondered what happens to all of those online accounts if we become incapacitated or when we die? Traditional estate plans focus on real estate, bank accounts and valuable tangible items; 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 estate plan must be updated to include management of these “digital assets” should you become incapacitated or after your death.
It’s important to make sure that your estate plan is updated to ensure that it addresses your digital life as well. The following can help you make this happen:
1. Make a list.
Begin by creating a list of online accounts and respective username and password information for accounts 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 trusted family members or friends know how to access it.
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 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.
3. Provide consent in legal documents.
Work with an estate planning attorney to execute an authorization document that includes 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.
A recent Boston Globe Article (“How to get your digital affairs in order”, March 6, 2019) also gives tips on how to work with digital platforms directly (such as Google and Facebook) to ensure that your wishes for the management of your digital assets are known. 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 who you would like to manage your digital assets and how you would like them managed.
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 document prepared by us which will provide consent to release as much or as little digitally stored information as you like to whomever you choose.