Estate Planning for your Digital Assets

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It is important to account for your online identity when creating your estate plan.

Provided by Angel McCall CFP®

When creating your estate plan, there are obvious areas to account for, such as what will happen to your home and belongings. However, now that we’re in the digital age, you have an entire identity that exists online. This not only includes your email and social networks, which contain personal information and private correspondence, but also websites like amazon, itunes, or financial apps that store your banking and/or credit card information. Our growing use of these websites and apps means that there is a growing need to include your digital assets in your estate plan, or risk having this personal information hacked, potentially putting your estate at risk. 

State and federal privacy laws prohibit unauthorized access to your online accounts. In addition to this, the terms of service agreement that you clicked the box for when registering, states that the only person authorized to access the account is the account creator. This means that even if you give someone your account login information, without a legal document stating your wishes, that person does not have the rights to access your accounts.

The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act introduces guidelines for managing a person’s online accounts. This law has been adopted in 18 states and introduced in 12 others, and describes 3 tiers to outline the protocol to access online accounts after someone’s death. Some websites (Google, Facebook) have tools within the site that allow you to appoint an executor to access your account. Under the first tier of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, if you take advantage of this tool, then this the only legal permission needed for your executor to access your account. If a website does not offer this tool, or you don’t take advantage of it, then the second tier is to refer to any wishes stated in a will or legal document to determine what will happen to your digital accounts. If there is nothing stated in a will or legal document regarding your online assets, then what happens to your account is determined by the terms of service you agreed to when you initiated the account. Usually these agreements prohibits access to the account from anyone other than the account owner.

The first step to adding your digital assets to your estate plan is determining who your executor will be. Choose this person carefully, as they will have access to a lot of personal information about you. Your executor should be someone you know and trust, and who is also tech savvy enough to carry out your wishes. Next, make an inventory of all your online accounts. Consider using a password manager, such as LastPass, and share this login with your executor. This will make it much easier for them to see a list of the accounts you use regularly, and to easily have access to the login information. Then you need to state your digital assets plan in your estate documents. Be very clear about what you want your executor to have access to. You should establish parameters about what this person can and cannot do once they have access to your account. If you don’t want someone reading your messages or scrolling through your history, you need to articulate that. Also consider writing more detailed instructions for what your specific wishes are for each online account.

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