Include Digital Assets in Estate Planning

Jackie Bedard
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Some of the most overlooked assets in estate planning include client's online accounts. A recent Pew study reported that 51 percent of American adults bank online and 32 percent do so on a mobile phone.

Login Information

Our key suggestion: Clients should create an inventory of usernames and passwords for their online accounts. For many, this information is often memorized, not written down. However, in the event of death, business associates or loved ones will need access to manage at least some of these accounts. 

Without creating a password list and informing someone of its location, access to a deceased or incapacitated client's digital assets is practically impossible. This list can be placed in a secure home safe, a bank safe deposit box, or even with your attorney. A provision in your estate plan documents can lead executors to the necessary information.

Types of Digital Assets to Include in Estate Plans

There are an exploding number of digital assets to consider in estate plans, including mobile devices and computers, bank accounts, utility accounts, credit cards, email accounts, insurance plans, social media, photo galleries, blogs. In addition, clients may have a subscription to Amazon Prime or Netflix with payments automatically deducted from bank or credit accounts. 

Within the will, clients should specify a fiduciary for digital account management. This person would have access to login information and could modify, transfer, or close those accounts according to the client's wishes. The client should also make specific instructions explaining how these accounts should be managed. 

Data Privacy 

After death, private online information can become public if clients do not make provisions to prevent it. Clients should consider adding a clause to their estate plan documents addressing this issue. If they have online accounts that they would prefer to keep hidden from loved ones, the fiduciary can be authorized to close those accounts. These may include profiles on dating and social media sites or personal blogs and photo galleries.

If you use Facebook or Instagram, they should consider adding instructions for these accounts to their estate plans. Loved ones can memorialize a deceased's profile by sending a request to Facebook, for example, or family members can request the profile be removed entirely. Since many people use these sites for storing photos, it might be important to surviving loved ones to have ongoing access to the images. 

The ways in which you use and access information online is only going to continue to increase. Your estate plans should incorporate your wishes for these digital assets. Contact us if you'd like us to talk about planning for this issue.

To learn more about common estate planning issues, check out our free guide, Estate Planning Pitfalls: The 12 Most Common Threats to Your Estate & Your Family's Future, or to discuss your estate planning concerns, please call our office at 919-443-3035 or use our contact form.