Protecting Digital Assets: Why Your Estate Planning Must Include Online Accounts

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Protecting Digital Assets: Why Your Estate Planning Must Include Online Accounts

While writing up a will and other estate planning documents, it's important not to forget your digital assets. Now that so much of our lives involve online or digital activity, you need to consider your online financial accounts, websites, email, and any other digital presence you've maintained.

Why do you need to include digital assets in your estate planning?

  • Your chances of being targeted for identity theft after incapacitation or death will decrease significantly.
  • Any accounts you've worked hard to maintain (such as a blog that's meant a lot to you and your readers) won't simply languish and disappear.
  • You'll have more control over the potentially large amount of information you've released online, both publicly and privately.
  • You'll prevent your loved ones from experiencing emotional, financial or legal trouble; for example, if you have an online financial account that no one knows about, your beneficiaries may get a nasty surprise with a notice of delinquent payments or money you owe the IRS.

Keep in mind these poignant words from a CNBC article that came out in May 2014:

"Left without a game plan, a lifetime's worth of online files and accounts becomes inaccessible, creating incredible stress for already bereaved family and loved ones who are left to settle an estate."

As you think about protecting digital assets and incorporating them into your estate planning, the following are some important questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Would I want any online accounts deleted? If so, who should delete them for me?
  • What are all of my accounts? Don't overlook anything. Include financial sites such as PayPal and eBay, social sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter, file-sharing accounts such as Dropbox, personal websites, email, online forums, and rewards accounts or any other customer accounts.
  • Who should manage my accounts? You might want to have different accounts managed by different people or perhaps grant access to one executor or beneficiary for all of your accounts. A recent article from HCP Live mentions that if you use password management software, all you have to do is supply a master password that will grant access to multiple accounts.
  • How will I keep the sensitive information safe? When you're providing your log-in information as part of your estate planning, how will you make sure that the usernames, passwords and other account information will remain private and accessed only by the people you've designated? You also have to make sure to update the information whenever you change your passwords.
  • What digital legacy should I leave behind? You can plan to have a final message posted on your website or social media accounts. You can also make plans to maintain a website from the money in your estate, ensuring that the domain name gets renewed and the website server space paid for so that your site stays up.
  • What can my beneficiaries inherit? For example, you may have substantial rewards points saved up at various businesses. Can your surviving family members make use of them? Businesses will vary in policy and might not allow anyone but the primary account-holder to use the points; but it's worth looking into.

Don't hesitate to contact us to further discuss these issues. Your digital assets may add some complications to your estate planning, but they're important to include. Your Torrance estate planning attorney can help you figure out how to protect your digital assets, manage them and transfer them in a way that best reflects your wishes.

Categories: Estate Planning
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