Digital Estate Planning

July 27, 2017

Author: Renée Pichette

With the internet playing an increasing role in our lives, both financial and personal, it is important to have a plan for your digital assets.

What are digital assets?

Digital assets include any online accounts or any personal information that is stored electronically. This includes accounts that have value attached to them, i.e. bank accounts, pay pal, frequent flyer accounts, bit coin, etc. as well as personal accounts, such as email accounts, social media, photo accounts, etc.

Some states have laws that allow the executor or family member to gain access to these accounts in the case of death or disability. However, in most states, the laws have not caught up with technology and the individual account provider’s rules and requirements (often listed in the terms and agreements) govern who can access accounts.

What can you do?

  1. Make a list of all your accounts. Include log in information, password, and any answers to security questions. Keep this list in a safe place, such as a lock box. Organize your list into financial and personal and take note of which accounts have automatic withdrawals from bank or credit cards.
  2. Consider using a third-party password manager to organize your passwords. Third-party password managers such as Dashlane or LastPass are programs that maintain all your passwords and can send access information to a designated individual upon death of the user. There is a risk of hacking such programs, so do your research before settling on a program.
  3. Look into the benefits of using a digital legacy service. These companies are relatively new and are dedicated to helping transfer digital access information. You can also use these services to send personalized notes and access information to family members. For a minimal fee, these services can send access information upon notification of death, or they will email the owner and use the lack of response as notification of death.  A few words of caution are warranted here, though. These companies have not been in existence very long so there isn’t much information on how successful they are in accomplishing their mission and it’s not clear how you can verify whether they’ll be in existence years from now.  As with password managers, there is a risk of hacking such programs, so do your research before settling on a program.
  4. Write down instructions for a family member or executor. Include locations of any written passwords.
  5. Add a provision to your Last Will and Testament giving your personal representative access to your accounts (if it is permitted under state laws).
  6. Look at the policies for your social media pages and email accounts. Each has a different policy regarding the accounts of people who have passed away. In some cases, you can set up an executor ahead of time, or decide if you would prefer your account to be deleted or to serve as a memorial. If the site does not allow for pre-planning, make sure you leave instructions.

Remember, just giving your log in information to someone does not legally give them permission to make decisions on those accounts on your behalf.

Having a plan for your digital assets can provide peace of mind for you and relief for your loved ones.

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About Renée Pichette

Renée is working on becoming a financial planner. She loves to travel, dance, and hike.