Even though your digital assets may not seem important, it is best to give them special consideration and include them in your estate plan, according to The St. Louis American in “Have you done estate planning for your digital assets?” This new kind of asset requires the same level of care when it comes to transferring or administering such assets as with more traditional and tangible assets.
Digital assets include social media, email accounts, creative works, photos, e-commerce accounts, domain names and documents kept in the cloud. Your digital assets may or may not be of great financial value. However, they still need protection against exploitation and abandonment.
Distributing digital assets is part of fiduciary duty, which is why they must be included in a will that articulates your wishes. Many social media and e-commerce websites will not readily allow a family member or personal representative to transfer or administer these accounts, unless direct permission is given by the user or their heirs.
Some social media platforms have a legacy contact system for heirs and a few different options, once authority to deal with the assets has been established. A legacy contact on Facebook can respond to friend requests, change the cover photo and profile photo or write a notice about your memorial service. However, they are not permitted to log in with your password or user name, read messages or modify account settings.
Google has an “Inactive Account Manager” option that will let you leave instructions for what should be done with your Google Drive docs or Gmail account once you are deceased.
LinkedIn offers an online form that is reviewed by LinkedIn before representatives reach out to the person. Documentation and information must be provided, before anything can be done.
Twitter also has an online form and a process. However, note that Twitter accounts are frozen upon death and access is even barred to members of the immediate family.
Your digital assets also include your devices. Give your executor or trustee locations and passwords of computers, tablets, e-readers, phones, laptops and any other devices you use. Locating backups may be crucial if the devices contain business information. Just like insurance on a car or home needs to be paid after a person dies, payments for anti-virus programs, service contracts for software updates and other ongoing fees relating to digital services, also need to continue to be paid.
Your will probably needs to be amended to include language regarding your digital assets. At the very least, make sure your executor or trustee knows where digital assets are stored. Your will should also give your executor the authority to administer, archive, alter or destroy digital assets, in addition to being able to distribute them to heirs or other named beneficiaries.
An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and includes digital assets. If you already have an estate plan, update it to include digital assets.
Reference: The St. Louis American (Sep. 7, 2018) “Have you done estate planning for your digital assets?”