What happens to your digital self after your death?
As technology continues to evolve, it has become a more integral part of just about every aspect of our daily lives. Despite this, it is still common for complications to arise surrounding a person’s digital assets after death. To ensure all parties involved can deal with your digital property with as much ease as possible, be sure to consider the following information in your estate planning.
Types of digital assets
There are two categories of digital property that you will need to think about. First, there are the assets you have ownership over and are transferable in a document like a will. These assets tend to be financially based, such as Paypal accounts, funds associated with online stores such as Etsy, and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
When it comes to your financial assets, you want your estate to be able to access them easily, allowing your estate to be settled as painlessly as possible. While these types of assets are usually transferable, that does not mean that the process of accessing them will be smooth, so you will want to be prepared.
Sentimental digital assets can be more complicated to deal with and are often overlooked. People don’t like to think about death and may not get around to planning their estate until a health scare or other traumatic event. In those times, items like living wills, power of attorney, and financial assets are understandably urgent, unlike your Twitter page.
Social media accounts, blogs, and domains may not initially seem as important as financial assets, but they often represent much more of our identity. These are the lasting legacies we leave behind, and people approach them in different ways. You may want your executor to have access to those accounts so they can inform your followers of your passing. On the other hand, you may explicitly not want to allow anyone to touch your social media accounts, and you can likewise make that wish known.
Plan of action
When considering putting together a digital asset will or including them in your estate planning, here is a plan of action to ease the process for your executor and heirs.
1. Compile your assets
You cannot make a good plan unless you know what you have. Sit down and list every online account you own (Venmo, email, social media, etc.), including passwords and other pertinent information. Store this somewhere securely, and make sure your executor can access it. Remember, you will need to update this list as passwords and accounts change. There are inexpensive applications that can help manage passwords, and they can help streamline this process.
2. Determine ownership and rights
Once you know what you have, you need to determine what you can do with it. For example, some domain names are transferable, while others are not. Depending on what your situation is, you may be able to easily transfer your domain name using a digital asset will, or you may need to set forth another plan of action for how to save your content and wrap up your domain. It may also be illegal for another person to access certain digital assets of yours, so you will need to consider how best to save the photos you want your family and friends to have.
3. Back up your data
The cloud has made life easier in some ways, but it is imperative that you still make sure you regularly back up important documents to a local computer or storage device so that they can be accessed more easily. Some companies have made this easier—for example, Facebook has an option to download all of your data to your computer. Remember, you want to make it easier for the appropriate people to access your digital assets when they need to, but you still want to keep them secure.
4. Provide explicit legal consent
Whether you are using a digital asset will template or working with an estate planning attorney, you will want to make sure to use explicit language giving lawful consent for your executor and heirs to access your accounts as appropriate. As consumers have demanded more security in their online lives, this type of clear legal documentation can help your loved ones more easily gain access to your assets.
It is also important to remember that just as technology continues to evolve, so do the laws governing it. Be sure to regularly update your estate plan and speak with an attorney about any changes in state or federal laws.