Let's face it: Your e-mail account, Facebook page and online photo albums are likely to outlive you. Deciding how to manage your digital legacy just may be your trickiest estate-planning task.
You may be well aware of your assets, but what about those “digital” ones? What is a “digital asset” anyway? Think about everything you “own” online and all the accounts you’ve created. Ringing a bell? Yes, those virtual assets need protection just as much as your physical assets do.
Proper planning means planning for all the lives you lead. It used to be that you had your life in the flesh and then you had your life in paper, that is, your accounts and records and even contracts. Nowadays, you live much of your life on the internet.
Your online life requires that information about your digital assets and accounts (especially passwords) must be included as part of your comprehensive estate plan. In turn, this information must be kept up-to-date and made available to your executors (also known as personal representatives), financial agents and trustees.
Likely, the digital age will only get more complex. Kiplinger recently addressed this subject of digital assets in a postmortem planning context in an article titled “Protect Digital Assets After Your Death.”
Everything from simple email accounts to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and then all the way to investment and banking sites, each of these contains information that can be of immeasurable value economically or sentimentally.
For example, what about your iTunes music collection or Kindle book collection? On the other hand, if your digital information is not secured postmortem, then it could become a liability in terms of identity theft.
Bottom line: without a comprehensive list of accounts and passwords, executors, trustees and even heirs might have a hard time accessing and/or closing your accounts.
Do not expect any help at common law either. These are largely uncharted legal waters. In fact, internet companies themselves are only just starting to address this issue.
Reference: Kiplinger (May 2013) “Protect Digital Assets After Your Death”