When people think about estate planning, they may only consider personal property, real estate and investments.
Digital assets might seem like a lesser concern, perhaps no concern at all. However, it is something that many are now considering.
Digital assets may be quite valuable with licensing agreements and other revenue sources from electronic accounts.
You can direct that they be transferred, preserved or destroyed per your instructions. Your digital assets may include information on your phone and computer. It may include your emails and text messages.
You can control what happens to these things after you are gone.
Your executor – the person you appoint to legally distribute or manage the assets of your estate – will be assigned to carry out your wishes in this matter, provided you articulate them.
In most states, you can legally give your executor the right to access your email, social media and other accounts.
The fate of your digital assets at a website will be governed by that website’s Terms of Service (TOS) agreement if you die without a will or fail to leave any instructions with the website.
If you state your preferences in a will, but also leave instructions with the website, the instructions you leave the website will usually overrule the will.
Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram have famously declared in their TOS agreements that all content uploaded by the user becomes their property.
Before the onset of digital media, the prevalent legal view on that issue was “no.”
Now, things are different.
You should not include online passwords in your will, for example, since a will can be made public.
Did you know that you need to specifically grant access to your email accounts in your estate plan, or alternately, through the email software’s tools?
If you fail to do this, your executor may review only the log of your email communications rather than the actual messages.
What other steps should you take?
Leave a digital access map for your executor – your accounts, your passwords.
This need not be seen until you pass away or are unable to maintain your digital profiles and accounts. It can be a file stored on a flash drive or similar backup media – and it can also exist on paper.
Check with websites to see what their policies are for transferring or maintaining digital assets when a user passes away.
See how reward points and credits are transferred and how pending financial or investment transactions are handled.
Is the executor of your estate plan a technophobe? If so, then think about appointing a second executor just to handle your digital assets.
It may be worthwhile.