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Estate Planning for Digital Assets: Don’t Do What Most Do

“In a recent survey of baby boomers, antivirus software provider AVG Technologies found that only 16% of respondents had thought about what would happen to their digital assets, after their deaths. A mere 3% had alerted or prepared their loved ones about this issue.”


An article from The St. Louis American asks “Have you done estate planning for your digital assets?” The answer? This new kind of asset requires the same level of care, when it comes to transferring or administrating assets, as 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 establishment of authority has been done. 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.

Linked In offers an online form that is reviewed by Linked In before representatives reach out to the person. Documentation and information must be provided, before anything can be done with the profile page.

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.

If your will hasn’t been updated in recent memory, there may be other issues that are not included in your estate plan. Make an appointment to meet with your estate planning attorney soon to take care of these and other updating issues.

Reference: The St. Louis American (Sep. 7, 2018) “Have you done estate planning for your digital assets?”

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