As much as we do not like to talk about end of life, it cannot be overemphasized that there is a need to plan adequately for ourselves and those we will leave behind.
In these modern times, Estate Planning does not just include who will inherit your physical or worldly possessions when you pass but beyond that are salient questions to ask as to what will happen to your digital assets that you have worked so hard to build? While the digital passwords of our lives may be needed by our Beneficiaries when we are no longer able to take these decisions or after we have passed, it is not exactly easy that we will have to update our Wills or Trusts every time we add a new password.
What do you want to happen to your online accounts when you pass on, and how will your Beneficiaries be able to find all the passwords? if you have intellectual property such as an e-book, photos or copyrighted material or even a business that you have built online, what plans will you make to protect it and make it a legacy for your Beneficiaries?
Have you thought of what will happen to your online business when you pass or unable to run it? Would someone be able to find everything they need to run your business temporarily if you were in an accident? Once you pass, does someone inherit the business or will it be shut down, or will you make provision for it to be sold to a competitor?
Making Plans for Yourself
To prepare oneself for a Digital afterlife, the first thing to do will be to state clear intentions in writing your objectives as regards your digital assets. It will be prudent to create a list of the accounts in your name across cyberspace and determine which ones you want your Trustee / Executor to access and which should be deleted.
It is wise to be prudent in leaving details in a Will as it concerns your Digital Estate Planning. Usernames and passwords should NOT be listed in a Will as a Will is a public document upon the demise of such person. Instead, consider recording access information for these accounts in a safe place like Apps that are being developed specifically for that purpose and leave instructions for your Trustee or Executor to find them.
It’s not yet feasible whether credits and purchases with digital media accounts (like Google Play Store or iTunes) or online reward account points can be transferred when their holder passes on or become incapacitated. The only solution for now may be to leave your Trustee / Executor with instructions as contained in your Trust Deed on how to access the value stored in those accounts – and back up the media on external hard drives stored in a safe place.
Finally, with the help of an Estate Planning expert, it is advisable to check with the companies whose online services you use, to see if they provide their own method to transfer assets at death. For example, Google has pioneered a method for its users to indicate what they want to have happen to their account if they don’t access it for several months.
By engaging in a well structured Estate Plan, your privacy can be well protected as well as ease with the management of your Digital Estate after you pass or become incapacitated. It is efficient to plan for your Digital Assets in the same way you would any other tangible or intangible asset. After all, Digital Assets are today’s shoeboxes of photos, letters and other mementos. Planning can preserve your legacy in its digital form.
Road Map For 21st Century Digital Estate
In light of the fact that our world has evolved and almost everything is literally virtual these days, it is important to make plans for how your Beneficiaries and Fiduciaries can legally have access to your Digital Assets should you no longer be able to do so or become incapacitated.
Taking it from the Top....
It is funny even when during our lifetime we sometimes forget our usernames or password all in the bid to create something hack proof, now imagine if and when someone else is trying to access that. Before we start on Digital Assets, let us understand that there is a difference in the approach of how the traditional and digital asset are both planned for in our Estates.
The conventional Estate Planning, administration usually includes naming a Fiduciary, Executor to the Will, a Trustee for the Trusts and for Power of Attorney. However in this world, the Fiduciaries have the authority to manage or distribute these conventional assets and accounts and the like when you pass or unable to do so for yourself.
It is however different when it comes to Digital Assets. A Digital Asset exists solely online and is probably very intangible. It might have no monetary value but only goodwill as an Asset.
With the steady growth of home businesses that include blogs or domain ownership, digital currencies such as bitcoin, accounts on social media, are all considered as assets.
So what do you need to do?
Given these complications, it is recommended that owners of digital assets draft – with the help of an Estate Planning specialist – documents that give a personal agent or representative the ability to access online accounts in the event of the owner’s death or incapacity.
Those would include a digital asset authorization and consent form, durable powers of attorney, and trustee authority over settlor’s digital estate. See samples here.
“We suggest that our clients sign it and give their fiduciaries and their agents under power of attorney their lawful consent to access their online accounts that might be subject to these privacy laws,”
What are Digital Assets?
- Digital devices such as computers and smart phones.
- Data-storage devices or media.
- Electronically stored data; including online financial records, whether stored in the cloud or on device.
- User account for social media pages ( Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ etc.
- Domain names / hosting service /online business accounts / cloud storage / drop boxes.
- Legal considerations; buy-sell agreement, reference to a will/ trust arrangement.
- Intellectual property in electronic format – a manuscript, collection of poems, recipes, etc).
- Online merchant accounts (nellies, AskDamz, Matsecooks, etc.).
- Organization accounts (e.g. membership organizations/charitable orgs).
- Publication accounts ( newspaper / magazines /blogs).
- Photography & music accounts (instagram / digital music library.
- Video accounts (YouTube etc).
- Virtual currency account |(bitcoin).
So what are you waiting for?