About 77% percent of Americans go online every day, leaving an accumulating trail of “digital assets” that might include photos, videos, emails, financial records, and other permanently recorded bits and pieces that tell the story of our days, weeks and years. The internet makes this process easy and convenient. Posting a photo takes five seconds. But what will this mountain of easily posted photos and comments mean for our loved ones after we’re gone?
Estate Planning and Digital Records
You may not believe that your Facebook account holds any real monetary value. And on that point, you may be right. But your photos, records and memories probably contain volumes of critical information and sentimental weight for those who know and love you. So your digital records do, in fact, represent significant meaning for your survivors and these records should find a place in your estate planning efforts.
Your accounts are assets, and you own them, so you’ll need to make some advanced arrangements so your executor can understand your wishes after you’ve passed away.
Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and several other prominent online providers have specific procedures in place that determine how your account should be handled upon your death. Read up on these rules and check the terms of service for your accounts (get the help of your estate planning attorney if necessary). In some cases, sharing your username and password may violate these terms and create hassles for your executors and trustees.
A little proactive decision making on your part can help your successors gain appropriate access not just to your online profiles, but also your hard drives, back-up drives, phones and tablets. And of course, as with all estate planning efforts, remember that this is not a once-and-done process. You’ll have to update your actions on a regular basis so your decisions stay up to date with your current files and current technology platforms.
Build your Digital Assets into Your Estate Plans
You may or may not need to formalize the digital aspect of your estate plan into a legal document, and the difference will likely depend on where you live. Your estate planning attorney can help you review state and local laws that govern details like 1) naming a specific executor for your digital assets, 2) naming a person your official executor can work with while managing these assets, 3) clarifying exactly how your asset inventory can be found and accessed.
Remember that a Last Will and Testament will become a public document upon your death, so don’t include your passwords and usernames in your Will. Instead, have the Will refer to outside documents that contain this information. Better yet, utilize a Revocable Living Trust as your estate planning structure and avoid probate entirely – keep private what deserves to be kept private!
Need some assistance in handling your digital assets? We can help you choose a path forward and work your digital profiles into your existing estate plan, if you have one. No matter who your advisors may be, keep them up to date on the status of your digital assets so they can adapt to changes in both technology and the law.