Include digital assets in your estate plan
Digital assets are simply defined as content that is stored digitally. Some common types of digital assets include photos, music, videos, power point presentations, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, logos and other branded graphics, audio files, PDF’s, and access codes to bank accounts, credit card accounts, investments, and the like. For some, these assets comprise a substantial portion of their estate. To those parties, as our world becomes more computerized and digitized, an estate plan that includes the disposition of digital assets becomes more and more important.
Think about how many passwords and usernames you use annually or the number of photos and songs you have saved to a computer or cloud-based storage center. Then consider how difficult it would be for your uninformed loved ones and agents to find them or obtain your other electronically stored information when you are gone. Without a centralized list of this information and easy access to it upon your death, your loved ones and agents will be left with the extremely difficult task of identifying and inventorying your digital assets.
Historically, the act of recording your digital assets and their passwords and usernames was a do-it-yourself responsibility, but as the world increasingly relies upon electronically stored mediums, the act of recordation is becoming more commercialized. If you do not rely upon a commercial provider for digital asset storage and management, you should be diligent about ensuring that you have a digital estate plan in order by following these simple steps:
1. Identify and make a list of your digital assets. Included in this list should be the location of your digital assets such as your computers, smartphones, or tablets. Next, list all online accounts such as photo storage sites, email accounts, social media accounts, investment and financial accounts, online retailers, and virtual currency accounts. During this step, record all account access information for each digital asset such as web addresses, account numbers, usernames, and passwords. If you own your own business, remember to also identify all online accounts that relate to those assets and accounts. If you have minor children, include their information on your list of digital assets. Finally, identify all trademarks, copyrights, domain names, and protected intangible assets.
2. Include your list of digital assets in your overall estate plan. Our firm constantly preaches the role of a Last Will & Testament, Power of Attorney for Finances, Power of Attorney for Health Care, and a Living Will as part of any solid estate plan. If you believe you have digital assets worth transferring upon your death, you should reference your newly formed list of digital assets in your estate planning documents. A bill of sale reference or a mention of the assets in your Last Will & Testament should suffice.
Designate an agent for your digital assets. Someone who will carry out your wishes as they relate to the assets. The choice of a trusted digital asset agent would likely include an adult or commercial vendor, somewhat technically informed, and someone capable of performing a basic, forensic digital asset search. Your digital asset agent may be entirely different than the agents and personal representatives you designate in your other estate planning documents.
Instruct your agent how you want your digital assets addressed during any period of incapacity or following your death. Perhaps you want photos or music files copied and divided among your loved ones. Perhaps you want them all destroyed. Any such digital assets in financial accounts can be distributed to your loved ones or used to pay creditors and claims.
3. Inform your agents where your digital asset list is maintained. Tell the key people you have designated as agents or personal representatives where to find your digital estate plan. Make certain your instructions include where to find all written authorizations, usernames, and passwords. While the use of a fireproof safe, file cabinet, or safe deposit box are routine, remember that the information must be easily accessible.
4. Update your digital asset estate plan often. Digital passwords and usernames change routinely. You add digital passwords and usernames as you establish new accounts. For these reasons, make certain your digital asset list remains current along with your other estate planning documents.
Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topic including estate planning, probate, and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006. He has been recognized as 2016 Adviser of the Year by GolfInc; Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times; and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.