"Digital Assets" and Estate Planning

For most of us, both financial and social online accounts have played a rather significant role in our day-to-day lives for many years. However, it’s rare that clients consider them when designing their estate plan. Leaving some detailed information and directions for your Executor regarding your “digital assets” should be an agenda item for your estate planning.

Consider maintaining a list (either paper or a computer spreadsheet) which includes all of your usernames and passwords for your online accounts. This would include email (including any encryption information), bank and brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, photograph/video/data storage sites (e.g. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive), social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), business-oriented social media sites (LikedIn), blogs, your own personal website or business website, streaming services (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, ESPN+), online data backup services (Carbonite), online document & spreadsheet processing accounts (Google Docs), tax preparation accounts (Turbo Tax), credit card accounts and accounts for paying your household utilities.

Some of these accounts will help your Executor figure out where your assets are and what outstanding bills need to be paid. There may also be some automatic payments scheduled from online bank accounts that will need to be shut off. You could also leave instructions about which social media sites to shut down and whether you want one or more of these sites to share information with your online social community about your demise. Some of these sites (a personal blog or an online photography account, in particular) may contain information that you want your Executor to download and pass on to children or grandchildren for sentimental reasons.

You should also put together a list of all your devices, such as your desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets and smart phones. Those devices may hold additional data on their hard drives (information that you do not keep online or in “the cloud”) that could further help your Executor wind up your financial affairs.

Keeping these lists updated is important since some of this information, particularly passwords, change relatively frequently. Perhaps you could make updating these lists part of your annual routine, maybe at the same time that you do your tax reporting each year.

I can tell you from 21+ years of probate experience that an Executor’s job is not easy. That’s probably the understatement of the day. But easy access to comprehensive information about your digital assets will make the probate process, as well as addressing all of the non-probate details, much easier.

DISCLAIMER: This blog does not offer legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.  If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog.