Planning For Your Estate? Don't Forget Your Digital Assets
March 6, 2023
Traditional estate planning typically involves a great deal of thoughtful consideration about how to divide money, personal property and family heirlooms among our loved ones, in addition to leaving a personal legacy to support charitable causes that mean the most to us. But now there is something else to consider: digital assets.
What Are Digital Assets?
Your digital assets run the gamut from online bank accounts, cryptocurrency accounts and bill payment accounts to photo-sharing sites, social media accounts, websites and online storage accounts. They can also include e-mail accounts, retail “rewards” accounts and accounts related to your personal interests, such as frequent flyer accounts, or even Pinterest and iTunes.
Who Has Access to Your Digital Assets?
While some of these assets have primarily sentimental value, others can have significant financial value. And, if digital assets aren’t included in your estate plan, then your heirs might not know about that online stock or that bank account — and those potentially valuable assets could be lost forever.
Because protecting your privacy is paramount when you are interacting online, access to digital assets are adding a new level of complexity to estate planning.
One option to protect virtual assets during your lifetime and grant access after your death is to specifically give permission to your heirs in your will. A master list of accounts and accompanying passwords should be kept in a safe place — such as a safety deposit box — and your estate document(s) should include instructions regarding where the passwords are located. Be sure to provide details for how you’d like every aspect of your online world handled after your death, including social media profiles: should they be cashed out, closed down or left online as a memorial?
And most importantly, keep your information current. Usernames, passwords and lists of accounts must be updated regularly! Remember, nearly every type of online account has a “terms of service” agreement, most of which are non-transferable, and there are several Federal laws that prohibit certain unauthorized access to computers and online accounts, as well as the ability to share deceased users’ account contents with relatives. Originally designed to prevent online fraud, these laws can also keep surviving family members from accessing information related to a deceased loved one’s estate.
Remember, Digital Assets are Just That: Assets.
Including your digital assets in your estate planning can protect your privacy, even after death, as well as ease the management of your estate for your loved ones. Plan for your digital assets in the same way you would any other valuable tangible (or intangible) asset. After all, digital assets are today’s shoeboxes of photos, letters and other mementos. Planning can help preserve this facet of your personal legacy in digital form.
Questions? Contact David Toll, JD, senior associate vice president, Office of Gift Planning at (215) 895-1882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.