The Importance of Adding Your Digital Footprint to Your Estate Plan
They may not be tangible possessions, but digital assets are a crucial part of your estate plan – maybe even on-par with material assets. Your family, friends or other representatives may not be able to access these digital assets without legal intervention if you pass away if you do not include them in your estate plan. They may not even know they exist!
What Do Digital Assets Include:
- Online banking/brokerage/investment accounts
- Digital photo galleries
- Video galleries or channels
- Email accounts
- Social media accounts
- Internet shopping accounts (Amazon, eBay, Etsy, etc.)
Documentation in the Digital Age: Keeping Virtual Records Instead of Hard Copies
In the past, family members would spend time, in the wake of a loved one’s passing, searching for personal items, like photo albums, safety deposit box keys and other valuable keepsakes. However, they’re also on the lookout for important financial documents. These include:
- Tax returns
- Bank & brokerage account statements,
- Insurance policies
- Loan agreements
However, in the modern age, many of these documents only exist as digital versions. If your estate plan doesn’t address your digital assets, your family will not know where to find them or how to gain access to crucial accounts.
What They Don’t Know Could Hurt Them
Say you opened an online brokerage account and decided to receive all statements electronically (to save the trees, to keep the records together – whatever your rationale may be). In a normal situation, the managing institution will send you an email with your current statement (which may or may not get deleted). You then login to the website, view the statement and go about your day.
If you do not download the document to your computer, would your family or executor know that the account exists? Suppose you’ve been diligent in saving your documentation over time, will your representatives know where to find it? Do they even know the PIN or password to your computer? All of these questions should be answered and each of these hypotheticals should be addressed throughout the estate planning process.
Disclosing All of Your Important Digital Assets & Associated Passwords
The first step in revealing your digital assets is to conduct a comprehensive audit of any computers, devices, phones, servers, websites, social media accounts or other places where your information is stored. However, you should not store your passwords and PINs in your will because a will is a public document. In lieu, you can write an informal letter to the executor of your will or another personal representative that lists all of your accounts, usernames and passwords. The letter can be stored with a trusted advisor or in some other secure place.
You could also create a “master password” that gives a representative complete access to a list of all passwords to important accounts. This can exist on your computer (using an application like Dashlane) or online (using a web-based application like 1Password).
For more information regarding digital assets and their role in estate planning, contact Holbrook & Manter today!