Digital Estate Planning

Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, can help you secure your digital assets. Contact us for trustworthy digital estate planning services.

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What Is a Digital Estate?

Today, we all have a digital life and own some digital assets. But, what happens to these when one dies? Well, it depends on whether or not you planned their transfer and protection. This is where estate planning for digital assets can come in handy. This type of estate planning allows you to organize your digital property and decide how they are used or handled by your heirs.

Your virtual and digital accounts and all associated assets make up your digital estate. These can be your social media accounts, online bank accounts, emails, and phone photos. Electronic documents and files kept online on portable devices or computers are digital assets.

Almost anything you store digitally is a digital asset and should be listed in your digital estate plan to allow your loved ones to access them once you are no longer around.

Types of Digital Assets

The first step in developing a comprehensive digital estate plan is knowing what is and isn’t a digital asset. Digital assets include online banking and electronic bank statements but not the money in your bank account.

Any of the following can be considered a digital asset:

  • email addresses

  • A social media account

  • Online banking accounts

  • A subscription-based online account

  • Accounts for online stores or marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, etc.

  • Pictures kept in the cloud or online

  • Online accounts in chat rooms

  • Smartphone apps

  • Accounts for online dating or gaming

  • Utility accounts on the internet

  • Benefits of loyalty programs (such as frequent flyer miles, credit card benefits, etc.)

  • Any additional private data you keep on your laptop, phone, or tablet

Five Steps to Plan Your Digital Estate

If you are considering estate planning for your online assets, here are the five basic steps you can take to prepare your plan:

Step 1 – Make a Digital Asset Inventory

To begin a digital estate plan, you may first list your digital possessions. Include usernames, passwords, and account names. You can either make a printed version or store the information in a password manager.

Step 2 – Record How You Want Each Digital Asset to Be Handled

It’s crucial to specify your intentions for each asset or account to ensure your executor manages them accordingly after your death.

Review the terms and conditions of any particular companies you are dealing with. Make sure your instructions comply with them. Transfers or authorizations to access digital accounts are permitted by some businesses but not others.

Facebook permits your account to be memorialized by family members. Twitter and Google have legacy policies. With Google’s custodial tools, you can grant someone permission to access your online accounts.

If you have blogs or accounts with monetary value, decide who will run them going forward and think about having someone post a farewell to your fans.

Step 3 – Select Your Digital Executor

Your traditional executor could also be your digital executor. The majority of people pick a relative or friend. If you pick several people, make sure they can cooperate. Clarify the duties and obligations of your digital executor, and make sure they are aware of the expectations.

Step 4 – Include Your Digital Estate Plan in Your Existing Estate Planning Documents

If you already have estate planning documents, such as a will or a trust, you can elect to include your digital estate plan as part of them. You can add digital estate provisions in your will, detailing your digital assets, how you want them to be handled, and by whom. Make sure to include the inventory list and details of the password manager.

If you don’t have an estate plan, an estate planning lawyer can help you create one.

Step 5 – Store Your Digital Documents Safely

Your digital executor must have access to all of your estate’s paperwork including digital data. Therefore, make sure to store your digital estate plan somewhere secure and easily accessible. You could, for example, keep them on file with your lawyer.

Navigating the Digital Landscape: Legal Challenges and Asset Integration

In the digital age, estate planning transcends physical assets, embracing the vast expanse of the internet. Digital assets, including social media accounts, digital currencies, and online businesses, form an integral part of modern estates. However, their inclusion in estate plans presents unique legal challenges, necessitating careful consideration and strategic planning.

Social Media and Online Identities: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have policies for deceased users, ranging from account memorialization to deletion. It’s crucial to specify your wishes for each account, ensuring your digital legacy aligns with your overall estate plan.

Digital Currencies: Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum represent significant assets that require secure management and clear directives for access and transfer. The volatile nature of digital currencies adds a layer of complexity to estate planning, highlighting the need for up-to-date, secure documentation.

Online Businesses: For entrepreneurs, online businesses are not just digital assets but legacies. Including these in your estate plan involves detailing operational access, management succession, and potential sale or continuation of the business.

Legal Challenges: The primary legal hurdle in digital estate planning is the lack of uniform laws governing digital asset succession. Each platform’s terms of service and varying state laws complicate the process, underscoring the importance of a comprehensive digital estate plan that considers these legal landscapes.

Steps for Inclusion: To effectively integrate digital assets into your estate plan, start by inventorying all digital assets and their access details. Clearly articulate your wishes for each asset’s handling after your passing, and ensure your digital executor is equipped to manage these assets in accordance with your instructions and legal requirements.

By addressing these aspects, your estate plan can comprehensively cover both tangible and digital assets, ensuring a seamless transition and the preservation of your digital legacy.

Digital Estate Planning Tools

An online password manager is a valuable tool for accessing digital assets. These systems can save usernames, passwords, and security questions and answers. You can also use them to store personal identification numbers (PINs) and save links to online services.

Typically, they are accessed through one master password. Access and security are made possible by services like Keeper, SecureSafe, BitWarden, and 1Password.

Digital Estate Planning for Businesses

Proper estate planning for digital assets is crucial for businesses. It is used to protect their digital property, including data, software, apps, and intellectual property.

The primary goal is to ensure the company and its digital assets are preserved after the owner’s death. This is especially the case if employees have access to the company accounts and online data.

Cybercriminals are inventive. Business owners must be careful and attentive in safeguarding digital assets. The same principles apply to estate planning for individuals. Your digital estate plan should form part of a broader estate tax protection strategy.

Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC Can Help You

Our knowledgeable attorney at Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, can help you protect your digital assets through a digital estate plan.

Whether it’s for your personal assets or for business, we are here for you. We create personalized estate plans for our clients, tailored specifically to their unique needs and goals.

We offer a broad range of services. You can see our DC trusts lawyer if you are considering creating a trust.

Contact us today for a free consultation!

FAQs

How Do I Grant Access to My Digital Assets?

To grant access to your digital assets, you can create a document listing your online accounts and login information and securely share this document with a trusted person, such as an executor or digital executor. Additionally, consider using online tools provided by certain platforms to designate a contact who can manage your digital assets in the event of your incapacity or passing.

How Often Should I Update My Digital Estate Plan?

Regularly revisit your digital estate plan at least once a year and also after major life changes like marriage, divorce, or acquiring new digital assets to ensure it remains accurate and up to date.