Digital Assets as Part of Estate Planning

 

With people increasingly living their lives online, digital assets are quickly becoming a substantial component of many people’s assets.

Most people assume that Internet users skew toward younger demographics. While this is true for platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, older Americans have quickly caught up with their younger counterparts on other social sites. For example, 72 percent of adults used Facebook in 2015. Breaking that number down even further, Pew Research Center discovered:

  • 79 percent of adults aged 30 to 49 use Facebook
  • 64 percent of adults aged 50 to 64 use Facebook
  • 48 percent of adults aged 65 and up use Facebook

This demonstrates the growing comfort and reliance all Americans feel with digital media.

What are Digital Assets?

Digital assets fall into a number of categories. Yes, it includes digital devices, such as smartphones and computers, but it also includes the files within those devices. These include books, documents, photos and videos, and, yes, your social media accounts.Digital Assets Cholewka Law

Beyond this, digital assets encompass your entire online presence, such as:

  • Online bank and investment accounts
  • Gaming sites
  • Customer lists
  • Business plans
  • Loyalty programs such as frequent flyer miles

Many of these virtual assets hold real-world value, whether monetary or sentimental. What’s more, if left unattended, they may become vulnerable to hackers and present a security risk. As such, they need to be included in your estate planning.

Addressing Digital Assets in Your Estate Plan

With so many digital assets out there, and so many of them holding actual monetary value, knowing what to do with them is vital. As of October 2016, most states have no statutes pertaining to an estate’s digital assets.

Of course, lack of statute does not prohibit you from including digital assets in a will or trust, or even listing them in your power of attorney.

Create a list of your online accounts, including user names, passwords, and security questions. Guard this list carefully, as it contains highly sensitive information. It will probably take some time to come up with every online account you have, but start with:

  • Banking institutions
  • Email accounts
  • Social media accounts
  • Online investment accounts

Include instructions for your executor on how you want each account handled, such as whether to delete the account completely.

Assigning an Executor for Your Digital Assets

Your executor is the agent you appoint to distribute your assets after your passing. This must be a person whom you trust to honor your wishes. In addition, you may want a different executor for your digital assets, as he or she will have access to a lot of personal, sensitive information, as well as having the responsibility for handling it.

Common duties for a digital executor include:

  • Managing the closing of your social media accounts
  • Reviewing and responding to email accounts, or simply deleting them
  • Working through photographs and videos on your various devices and determining which should be deleted and which should be shared (and with whom to share them)

Make sure you fully arm your executor to fulfill his or her role by providing all of the information needed to do so. You can use a password management application. Then, include the password to this site with your estate plan. One warning: make sure this is one heck of a strong password.

Getting Started with Your Digital Estate Planning

If you need to start the estate planning process, or wish to add digital assets to your existing plan, contact Cholewka Law today for a free, confidential consultation.

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