Although digital technology has made many aspects of our lives much easier and more convenient, it has also created some unique challenges when it comes to estate planning. If you haven’t planned properly, just locating and accessing all of your digital assets can be a major headache—or even impossible—for your loved ones following your death or incapacity.
Even if your loved ones can access your digital assets, doing so may violate
privacy laws and/or the terms of service governing your accounts. You may also have
online assets that you don’t want your loved ones to inherit, so you’ll need to take measures to
restrict and/or limit access to such assets.
Given the unique nature of your online property, there are a number of special considerations
you should be aware of when including online property in your plan. Here are a few of the steps
you should take to help ensure your digital assets are properly accounted for, managed, and
How to Add Digital Assets to Your Estate Plan
1. List Inventory
Create a list of all your digital assets, along with their login and password
information. Some of the most common digital assets include cryptocurrency, online financial
accounts, online payment accounts like PayPal, websites, blogs, digital photos, email, and social
Store the list in a secure location, and provide your fiduciary (executor, trustee, or power of
attorney agent) with detailed instructions about how to locate and access your accounts. To
make them easier to manage, back up any cloud-based assets to a computer, flash drive, or
other physical storage device. Review this list regularly to account for any new digital property
2. Write Instructions
Just like any other property you want to pass on,
detail in your plan who you want to inherit each digital asset, along with your wishes for how
the asset should be used or managed. If you have any assets you don’t want passed on, include
instructions for how these accounts should be closed and/or deleted.
Do NOT include passwords or security keys in your planning documents, where they can be
read by others. This is especially true for your will, which becomes public record upon your
death. Instead, keep this information in a separate, secure location, and provide your fiduciary
with instructions about how to access it. Consider using digital account-management services,
such as Directive Communication Systems, to help streamline this process.
If you have particularly complex or highly encrypted digital assets like cryptocurrency, consider
including provisions in your plan allowing your fiduciary to hire an IT consultant to deal with any
technical challenges that might come up.
3. Restrict Access
Include terms in your plan detailing the level of access you want your
fiduciary to have to your digital accounts. For example, do you want your fiduciary to be
allowed to view your emails, photos, and social media posts before passing them on or deleting
them? If there are any assets you want to limit access to, we can help you include the necessary
provisions in your plan to ensure your privacy is respected.
4. Include Hardware
Don’t forget to include the physical devices—smartphones,
computers, tablets—upon which your digital assets are stored in your plan. Having quick access
to these devices will make it much easier for your fiduciary to manage your digital assets. And
since the data can be transferred or deleted, you can even leave these devices to someone
other than the individual who inherits the digital property stored on them.
5. Review Access-Authorization
Some service providers like
Google, Facebook, and Instagram allow you to give specific individuals access to your accounts
upon your death. Review the terms of service for your accounts, and if these functions are
available, use them to document who you want to access your accounts.
Double check that the people you named to inherit your digital assets using these access-
authorization tools match those you’ve named in your estate plan. If not, the provider will likely
give priority to the person named with its tool, not your plan.
Pace Yourself with Technology
As technology evolves, you’ll need to adapt your estate plan to keep pace with the ever-changing nature of your assets. As your Personal Family Lawyer, we know just how valuable
your online property can be, and our planning strategies are specifically designed to ensure
these assets are preserved and passed on seamlessly in the event of your death or incapacity.
At Jones Legal, P.C., we don’t just draft documents. We ensure you make informed and
empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. We offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session™ to help you become more financially organized than ever before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.