Digital Assets in Your Estate: Are You Prepared?
A recent study showed that many people value their digital assets at an average of nearly $55,000. Beyond the potential monetary value of your digital assets in your estate, there are other important issues such as privacy, security and legacy planning.
It’s a sad, but true fact, that laws tend to lag behind technology, so current statutes and case law are not very helpful in addressing this issue and/or providing guidance for how to properly incorporate digital assets into an estate plan. A few states have addressed issues surrounding what information sites can and cannot release to users and others, such as Virginia, that have proposed such legislation (see Virginia Senate Bill 914). However, the law remains unsettled.
So, now that we’ve pointed out the issue, here are two ideas for you to utilize in being prepared and having your digital assets in order:
1. Make a “digital inventory” of your digital assets
This means you should create a list of all your online accounts and digital assets. The list should feature the following components:
(a) The site’s domain name
(b) Your username
(c) Your password
Security questions and other identifying information that will allow an administrator or executor to access your digital assets and accounts with ease. Update the list frequently. Set a reminder in your Google calendar or other calendar system. Consider checking the list on a monthly basis. You should also consider including basic instructions on suggested actions to take for each account and/or digital asset (e.g., close account, monetize the assets, and so forth). Be sure to protect the privacy and security of this list with a complex password and identity theft software.
2. Include Digital Asset Provisions in Estate Planning Documents
You should speak with your estate planning attorney and consider adding enabling provisions in your will, trust and power of attorney for property to cover both management and succession for online accounts and digital assets, as well as distribution of digital assets. But be sure NOT to include your username and password to any accounts in these documents. Again, that information is best served by being in a separate, easily accessible document that you can update regularly. It’s also important because your will becomes a public record after death so you don’t want highly sensitive account information included in a public document.
Again, this is a cutting edge area of estate planning so it is strongly recommended that you speak to an experienced estate planner to ensure you protect your digital assets and online accounts.
For more information about digital assets in estate planning, check out this interesting article in the Commlaw Conspectus.