There’s never an easy time to talk about end-of-life planning, and digital assets are typically overlooked, says the article “Wannabe Wired: Preparing your digital legacy,” from The Lawton Constitution. Most of us think about creating a will, making burial plans and ensuring that our loved ones are cared for when we are gone. However, planning for our digital legacy is often neglected.
You don’t have to be Bill Gates or own billions in bitcoins to have a digital legacy. In fact, most people don’t even recognize their digital assets as a new type of property. If you have bank accounts, social media, own any websites or have original music, artwork, or videos online, you have digital assets. If your photos are stored electronically, your have very important digital assets. When your family wants to access your electronically stored photographs for a memorial service, make sure that they have access.
Prior planning can help your loved ones deal with your digital assets, as well as your traditional property.
Different online platforms have different policies about what happens to accounts owned by people who have passed. Sometimes there is an option to delete or deactivate a profile, if the owners have checked the right box. However, that’s not always the case. Many digital giants won’t allow someone who is not the owner, to gain access to their accounts or the data.
Start by making a list of user names and passwords. If you can, go through all of your accounts one by one to see if they allow users to make a plan for what happens if the owner dies. Some, like Facebook, allow the account owner to name a Legacy Contact. That person is permitted to manage tribute posts on your profile, deciding who can and who cannot post on your account and request the removal of your account. Just go to General Account Settings and click on the “Memorialization Setting.” You also have the option to have your account deleted after you die.
Not every platform makes this process so easy. Some will delete accounts, if there is no activity after a certain number of months or years. If you have a business that relies on a free email service like Yahoo!, this could cause your family to lose access to valuable information.
Once you’ve made a thorough list of all of your online accounts and passwords, talk with a trusted family member about your wishes for your digital accounts. Do not include the document with online accounts and passwords in your will! The DIY will websites often now include digital assets which can lead to big problems. Remember that your will is likely to be a probated document, meaning that it will be entered into the public record. You don’t want people accessing your online accounts—it’s an invitation to identity theft. Protecting your digital assets from inadvertent disclosure is as important as making sure family members can access them if you become incapacitated or pass away.
Speak with your estate planning attorney about planning for your digital and traditional legacy. It will spare your loved ones a lot of trouble and provide you with peace of mind.
Reference: The Lawton Constitution (May 12, 2020) “Wannabe Wired: Preparing your digital legacy”