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Elder Law and Estate Planning Blog - Lancaster, PA

Friday, August 9, 2013

Managing your Digital Assets

In a digital age, where everything is online, there has been a debate about what should happen with a person’s “digital assets,” or all of their accounts, websites, Microsoft and music files, etc.  Our online lives are almost as complicated and diverse as our offline lives, and they keep growing.  So how do we plan for digital assets when it comes to estate planning?
First, we should talk about what a digital asset is.  Digital assets and accounts include a wide variety of things, including:
Email accounts
Pictures (like Flickr and Instagram)
Videos (YouTube, Vimeo)
Documents (accounts such as Google docs and Scribd and files from Word, Excel, etc.)
Websites, domain names and blogs
Social Network Accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin)
Music (iTunes, Amazon)
Books (Kindles and e-books)
Devices, like your laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc. and their associated accounts
Frequent flier accounts (or something similar)
Shopping accounts and online businesses (Ebay, Amazon, Etsy)
Bill payment accounts (Bank, Paypal)
So what should you do with these accounts when it comes to estate planning?  You should consider who can access and control these upon your death or incapacity and how they would get access when the time comes.  Unfortunately, this can get tricky as the Terms of Service Agreements differ from company to company, and many have language buried in the depths of their unread words that allows the service provider to do whatever they want with your account should you abandon it due to death, disability or otherwise.
Although there is no perfect solution for what you can do with you digital assets, there are a few starting points I want to suggest.  First, make a list of all your digital accounts and assets.  This should include the website’s domain name, your username and password, security questions and answers, and other identifying information that will allow your successors to discover information.  Update this list frequently and make sure your designated successors have access to it when they need it.  This list can be anything from a basic spreadsheet to an online password storage service (there are a number out there, such as 1password, KeePass, and my-iWallet).  But, be sure that if you make this list you protect the privacy and security of it to avoid providing a roadmap for identity theft!  Whichever way you make this list, don’t include password information about it in your will because that becomes a public document.  Instead, write down where the list is, how to access it, and the password and store that information in a safe deposit box or with your attorney.
You can also ask to include a provision in you will and powers of attorney that cover the management and succession for accounts.  Will this work?  Maybe, but maybe not depending on the terms of service, which, like I said, varies from service provider to service provider.  Still, it can’t hurt to try and will let your estate planning attorney and executor know what you want done with your digital assets, even if later they are prevented from being carried out.

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