Table of Contents
In today's digital age, it's not just physical possessions that matter when it comes to estate planning. Your online legacy, which consists of digital assets like financial accounts, social media profiles, and stored data, plays a crucial role in your overall estate. Protecting and managing these assets is essential in ensuring that your loved ones can access and preserve your digital presence after you're gone.
Creating a digital asset inventory is a necessary step in modern estate planning. By having a thorough list of your online accounts, assets, and login information, you're safeguarding your digital legacy from theft, fraud, and potential loss. Moreover, this organized approach provides your family and executor with the essential information they need to administer your estate according to your wishes.
As you embark on this crucial process, remember that planning for your digital estate can be streamlined by considering the various types of online accounts and assets you have. This should include financial access, social media profiles, and any valuable data stored in the cloud. Taking the time to create a comprehensive inventory not only makes your heirs' or executor's job easier but also alerts them to assets they may be unaware of, further protecting your online legacy.
Digital Assets and Estate Planning
Understanding Digital Assets
Digital assets are any online records that you own. These assets can range from blogs, social media accounts, to online rewards programs and financial accounts. It is crucial to include them in your estate planning to ensure they are properly managed and protected after your passing. Failing to address these assets can lead to loss of valuable information, added administration costs, and potential identity theft issues.
To manage your digital assets effectively, create a digital asset inventory, which includes a list of your online accounts, access credentials, and instructions for how they should be managed upon your passing. Share this inventory with a trusted person, such as your estate planning attorney, trustee, or a family member to ensure proper access and management.
The Growing Importance of Digital Assets
As our lives become more digitally dependent, the importance of including digital assets in your estate plan increases. Including digital assets in your will or estate plan ensures that they are handled properly and not overlooked. This also enables you to:
- Provide access to your digital assets with ease
- Avoid potential legal issues in accessing restricted accounts
- Protect valuable digital assets with financial value, such as cryptocurrency investments
- Prevent identity theft by properly closing or deleting accounts
To account for digital assets with monetary value, consider incorporating them into your will or revocable trust. Consult with an attorney or estate planner to understand specific considerations for assets like cryptocurrency and other unique digital properties.
In addition to a will or trust, it is essential to have a durable power of attorney in place, which appoints a trusted person to manage your digital assets in the event of your incapacity. This ensures that your online presence and valuable information are protected in case you become unable to make decisions for yourself.
By considering digital assets as part of your estate planning process, you can effectively protect your online legacy. Taking the time to create and maintain a digital asset inventory, establish legal directives, and share this information with trusted individuals ensures that your digital property is handled according to your wishes.
Creating a Digital Asset Inventory
Identifying Your Digital Assets
To create a comprehensive digital asset inventory, start by identifying your digital assets. These assets can include various types of online accounts, as well as files and documents stored on your devices or in the cloud. Consider the following categories when identifying your digital assets:
- Online accounts: email accounts, social media profiles, e-commerce accounts, and financial accounts.
- Digital files: documents, photos, videos, music, movies, and e-books.
- Websites and blogs: any websites you own or manage.
- Other digital assets: domain names, online gaming accounts, and cryptocurrency wallets.
Take the time to consider which digital assets are important to you and should be included in your inventory. This will help ensure that your online legacy is protected and accessible to your loved ones or estate executor.
Organizing and Cataloging Your Inventory
Once you've identified your digital assets, it's crucial to organize and catalog them efficiently. Here are some tips to help you manage your digital asset inventory:
- Create a spreadsheet or use a digital asset management tool to record key information about each asset, like account names, usernames, passwords, and access instructions.
- Use a clear and consistent naming system for your digital files to make it easier for your loved ones or executor to locate and identify them.
- Regularly update your inventory as you open new accounts, create additional digital files, or make changes to existing assets.
- Store your inventory securely, either electronically or as a physical document, and ensure someone you trust knows how to access it in case something happens to you.
By creating a comprehensive digital asset inventory and organizing it efficiently, you're taking an essential step towards protecting your online legacy and ensuring your loved ones or estate executor can easily manage your digital assets after your lifetime.
Securing Your Digital Assets
Managing your passwords effectively is crucial to safeguarding your digital assets. Using a password manager is an excellent way to securely store and access your login information. This tool allows you to generate strong, unique passwords for each account, reducing the risk of unauthorized access. Additionally, remembering just one master password simplifies your digital life and makes it easier for your heirs and executor to access your online accounts. Some practical steps include:
- Choose a reputable password manager.
- Regularly update your master password.
- Share your master password and recovery instructions with trusted individuals.
Security Best Practices
To further protect your digital assets, follow these security best practices:
- Regularly update software and operating systems.
- Use two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible.
- Beware of phishing emails and other social engineering attacks.
- Limit access to your accounts to only trusted individuals.
- Log out from accounts when not in use.
By being proactive with security measures, you can help to ensure the safety of your valuable digital assets.
Planning for Hacking and Security Breaches
No system is immune to hacking or security breaches. Preparing for potential threats is essential for preserving your digital legacy. The following preemptive actions can decrease your vulnerability to online attacks:
- Regularly monitor your accounts for suspicious activity.
- Set up account recovery options, such as secondary email addresses and phone numbers.
- Keep backups of important documents and assets in a secure location.
- Establish a plan for how your digital assets should be handled in case of a breach or hacking incident.
- Make sure your trusted individuals are aware of these plans and armed with the necessary information to take action if needed.
Incorporating these steps into your digital estate planning will help safeguard your online legacy and grant you peace of mind knowing your assets are securely protected.
Selecting a Digital Executor
The Role of a Digital Executor
A digital executor is a person you appoint to manage your digital assets after you die. Their role includes accessing your online accounts, preserving important digital documents, and ensuring your digital assets are properly distributed to your heirs or any other beneficiaries. This individual works alongside the general executor of your estate who is tasked with handling your physical and financial assets.
Choosing the Right Person for the Job
When selecting a digital executor, consider someone who is responsible, trustworthy, and has a good understanding of technology. They should be able to navigate various platforms with ease, including managing your social media accounts, email, online banking, and any other websites or apps you used regularly on your smartphone.
Some aspects to keep in mind while choosing a digital executor:
- Technical abilities: The person should be comfortable with technology and able to manage various online accounts.
- Trustworthiness: Your digital executor should be someone you trust to carry out your wishes and respect your privacy.
- Familiarity with your digital life: Ideally, they should know about the important accounts, files, and documents that need their attention.
- Availability: The person should be available to act as your digital executor when the time comes.
Providing Access to Your Digital Assets
To help your digital executor fulfill their role, it is crucial that you provide them with access to your digital assets. This can be done through a comprehensive inventory list, including:
- Account usernames and passwords
- A list of your digital devices and access codes (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.)
- Instructions for accessing encrypted files or hard-to-reach digital assets
Make sure to store this inventory list in a secure location, such as with your attorney or in a password-protected document. Regularly update the list as you add or modify accounts.
By carefully selecting a digital executor and providing them with access to your digital assets, you are taking an essential step in protecting your online legacy and ensuring that your digital life is properly managed, even after you are gone.
Managing Social Media Accounts
When it comes to estate planning, your social media accounts play a vital role in preserving your online legacy. Ensuring their proper management after your passing requires a well-organized digital asset inventory.
Handling Your Facebook Account
Your Facebook account holds a significant amount of personal information, memories, and connections to loved ones. Here are some steps you can take for estate planning purposes:
- Legacy Contact: Appoint a legacy contact who will be able to manage your account after your passing. This person can post a final message on your behalf, respond to friend requests, and update your profile picture.
- Memorialization: Inform your legacy contact about Facebook's memorialization feature, which turns your account into a memorialized version where your friends can continue to share memories. They can then request your account to be memorialized after your passing.
- Delete after death: If you prefer not to have your Facebook account active posthumously, you may set it to delete after death. This method erases your profile and all associated content permanently.
Other Social Media Platforms
While Facebook is often the primary focus due to its prominence, it's important to have a plan for your other social media accounts as well. Here are some general steps for handling your accounts on different platforms:
- Inventory: Make a comprehensive list of all your social media accounts, including usernames and passwords. Store this information securely, and inform your trusted person(s) or digital executor of its location.
- User agreements: Review the terms and conditions for each social media platform in case they have specific policies regarding account management after the account holder's passing.
- Wishes: Clearly state your wishes for each social media account, such as having them closed or memorialized, and share these preferences with the person(s) handling your estate.
Taking the time now to plan the management of your social media accounts saves your loved ones from having to navigate complex processes during a difficult time. Your digital asset inventory ensures that your online legacy is protected and in alignment with your wishes.
Coping with Terms of Service Agreements
Understanding Terms of Service Agreements
Terms of Service Agreements (TOSAs) are contracts between you and the digital service providers that you use. They outline the rights, obligations, and restrictions associated with the usage of their platform or service. It's important to read and understand TOSAs, as they often dictate who can access your digital assets, like social media accounts and online storage services, after your death.
For example, as mentioned in The Tax Adviser, TOSAs usually prohibit access to your digital assets by anyone other than the individual who created the asset. This means that even someone acting as your fiduciary, like a family member or executor, might be denied access after your death.
Navigating Post-Mortem Account Management
While dealing with the loss of a loved one can be an emotionally difficult time, it's also essential to consider the management of their online legacy. Some digital service providers have tools and policies in place to help manage deceased users' accounts, depending on their TOSA.
Here are a few steps to follow when navigating post-mortem account management:
- Review the TOSA: Begin by reviewing the service provider's TOSA to understand their specific policies regarding account access and management for deceased users.
- Contact the platform's support team: Reach out to the service provider for assistance in managing your loved one's account. They can guide you through their processes and help you understand what information and documentation may be required.
- Prepare necessary documents: You might need to provide official documents like a death certificate, proof of identification, and a court order establishing your authority as an executor or administrator.
- Consider memorializing the account: Some platforms, like Facebook, offer the option of turning a deceased user's account into a memorial page. This allows friends and family to share memories, while limiting access to the account's private data.
Remember, each digital service provider has its own set of rules and regulations surrounding post-mortem account management. By understanding and following their TOSAs, you can protect your loved one's online legacy and ensure their digital assets are handled according to their wishes.
Protect Your Online Footprint: Estate Planning in the Digital Age
Estate planning in the digital age is a crucial step in ensuring that your loved ones can access and preserve your online legacy after you're gone. By creating a comprehensive inventory of your online accounts and assets, you can streamline the process for your heirs or executors and protect your digital presence from theft, fraud, and potential loss. Create an Heirloom Safe account to store your digital account credentials and safeguard your entire digital life. With the right preparation and foresight, you can leave behind a lasting digital legacy for future generations to cherish.
Heirloom Safe is not a law or financial advisory firm, and our employees do not act as legal or financial advisors. Our articles aim to provide accurate, general information. Given estate planning's complexity, we strongly recommend consulting with a licensed professional tailored to your needs. Please use Heirloom Safe's information responsibly and alongside professional advice.