Why You Need to Protect Your Digital Assets (Published 09-2017)
When you think of estate planning you probably think of your home, cars, investments, real estate, personal possessions, bank accounts, and so on. For the most part, tangible items you can touch and hold.
But what about your digital assets? Digital assets include:
- Online accounts (banks, credit unions, credit cards, rewards programs, health insurance, etc.)
- Images, videos, photos, text
- Email accounts (work and private)
- Investment accounts with online statements
- Social media pages
- Personal websites and blogs
If we think back just 10 years, digital estate planning wasn’t a priority for most, but as our digital sphere increases, it has become more and more important to protect digital assets.
Much like any other assets, if you don’t manage your digital assets before death, your family may not have the necessary access and rights, thus increasing the risk and difficulty of dealing with your assets, or letting them fall into the wrong hands.
Unfortunately, federal privacy laws don’t always inherently encompass digital spheres unless the individual takes specific action. While some states have risen to the challenge and passed laws to remedy the issue, their solutions are still far from perfect. In fact, your accounts may be automatically deleted after death or your family may have to obtain a court order for rights to access. Either scenario is not ideal and the latter can take upwards of years!
Some platforms such as Google and Facebook have built-in features, such as a “legacy contact” or “inactive account manager” which allows a trusted individual to manage your accounts after passing. However, a proactive approach to digital estate planning is still the best course of action.
How do you start to set up a digital estate plan?
Inventory Digital Assets
Make a list. Think about financial, purchasing, and social accounts. This includes banking, credit cards, email, social media, personal blogs and websites. In addition, provide information on how to access each account, as well as a brief description of each account.
Safely Store Your Information
After collecting all your account details, set up a space for safe keeping. Talk with us about options if you do not have a clear idea on how best to safeguard this information. Make sure that someone you trust knows where this information is stored.
Designate A Digital Executor
Check with us for details on naming a digital executor, in other words, the person (or persons) who will have the rights to manage your digital assets after death. Some states recognize this distinction while others may require you to set up a similar function aligned with your state’s law. This can be more complex for those with multiple residences.
A digital executor is often a spouse, child, parent or trusted individual; they will have full responsibility of your digital assets based on your predefined instructions.
Digital estate planning is an entirely new consideration for most people. As the digital sphere grows and more of our lives take place online, it becomes more important to keep yourself protected.
Matthew V. Piwowar is a Grand Rapids estate planning attorney. Mr. Piwowar is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, and the State Bar Probate & Estate Planning Section, the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys, and the Michigan Forum of Estate Planners.