By Attorney Keith Morris
Special to THELAW.TV
You've got a will that divides your money and personal property, assigns powers of attorney for financial and medical matters, and designates guardians for your children. So, your estate planning journey is done, right?
Probably not. In the age of the Internet and computers, an estate planning tool that many people are missing is a plan for what happens to their digital assets after an incapacity or death. Digital assets can include online bank accounts, social media accounts, photos stored online, and more.
Most people involved in estate planning don't consider these digital media to be "assets" in the classic sense. However, they do go on after someone has died and, as such, should absolutely be provided for in your estate plan.
Creating A Digital Estate Plan
Consider for a moment all of the information you have online or on your computer hard drive. The first step in creating a digital estate plan is to make an inventory of all these digital assets and document how to access them.
This inventory should include:
- Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, etc.)
- Blogs and websites
- Email accounts
- Financial accounts (online banking, brokerage accounts, credit cards, loans, insurance, 401K, etc.)
- Paypal, Propay, and other online payment sites
- Online bills (cable, water, electricity, insurance, etc.)
- Marketplace sites (Ebay, Amazon, Etsy, iTunes, etc.)
- Data storage accounts (Cloud storage sites, Google Docs, etc.)
- Photo or video sharing accounts (Youtube, Instagram, Flickr, etc.)
- Online media sites, such as Netflix, Hulu, etc.
This likely will be a long list for many people. Basically, any online account that you signed up for is a safe bet to include on the list. This list should be updated at least once a year.
Storing Info Safely
The list of information you gather for your digital assets is a valuable document that should be stored safely. The personal information it contains could be used for identity theft and result in serious financial issues if the wrong person gets ahold of it.
One safe storage option is to put the list on a flash drive and store it in your safety deposit box or home safe, along with your other estate planning documents.
To keep this information private, you should never email it to anyone, leave printed copies unsecured, or save it to a device that isn't protected by a password.
Finalize Your Digital Estate Plan
Now that you have your digital inventory created, updated, and safely stored away, you have to finalize your digital estate plan.
First, name an executor for your digital estate plan. Qualities to look for in the right person include impartiality, the ability to handle sensitive information, and advanced knowledge of current technology. An estate planning attorney is one person who can serve this position; a trusted friend may be another option.
A digital estate plan should also include a list of instructions on how to handle the assets contained in it after you die.
Questions to consider include:
- Do you want your social media accounts deactivated? What are the terms and conditions for the sites you are a part of in regard to this?
- Do you want online photos printed for family members?
- Do you want any final messages posted on your accounts?
Once your plan is finalized, make sure the person you chose as your digital executor can access your plan and inventory list, and has power of attorney over your digital accounts.
The author, Keith Morris, is an estate planning attorney in Houston, Texas.
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