Baby boomers continue to become more tech savvy. With much of our lives moving online, we are creating and accumulating more and more â€œdigital assetsâ€ each year, many of which we are unaware we have. Think of each of your online accounts and profiles that include personal information and contacts. It has become commonplace to have this information stored on your computer(s) drives, external drives, mobile phone(s) and online or in the cloud.
Here is a list of some of the digital assets we accumulate to get you started along with a few examples (to help jog your memory!).
â€¢ Digital photo sites (Flickr, Smugmug, Shutterfly)
â€¢ Photos on your computer hard drive, digital storage device, phone, iPad)
â€¢ Video sharing sites (YouTube or Vimeo)
â€¢ Email services (Gmail, Office 365, Hotmail)
â€¢ Logins to the many sites that we autopay set up or have credit card information stored,
â€¢ Online banking accounts (savings, checking, loan)
â€¢ Online investment accounts
â€¢ Online Insurance accounts
â€¢ Tax software or online
â€¢ Utilities (that are set up on auto-pay)
â€¢ Cellphone and internet service
â€¢ Online storage accounts (Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Box, Dropbox)
â€¢ Documents or writings that are yours that you want to keep or hand down
â€¢ Any computer-generated assets (graphics, logos, artwork)
â€¢ PayPal account
â€¢ eBay (and eBay storefront)
â€¢ Blog (WordPress, Blogger)
â€¢ Website (WordPress, Squarespace, WIX, other)
â€¢ Domain names (used and owned but not used)
â€¢ Social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat)
â€¢ Music sites (iTunes, Spotify, Pandora)
â€¢ TV streaming (Amazon, Netflix, HBO, Direct TV Now, YouTube TV)
â€¢ Video gaming sites (PlayStation)
â€¢ Amazon and other frequented online shopping sites
â€¢ Subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or professional journals- do they auto renew)
â€¢ Intellectual property, trademarks, copyrighted material
â€¢ Online dating sites (Match, eHarmony)
â€¢ Loyalty programs (frequent flyer miles. Credit card cash back)
Without specific provisions included in estate-planning documents, a family member who has the required login information likely would not be legally able to act in the decedentâ€™s accounts. For example, a family member would not have the authority to remove accounts with credit-card information. So, accounts that are on auto-pay would need to be turned off. Similarly, if you become incapacitated, how will your family member or successor trustee know what accounts you have that need to be paid or managed?
In addition, this could potentially leave them vulnerable to hackers who could use the information to make fraudulent purchases which could leave the estate responsible for the charges. Also, the family member would not be able to access the account to post final thoughts about the deceased family member on that personâ€™s social media pages like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or Snapchat. Each social media provider lists this in their Terms and Conditions page of your account. Make sure you are familiar with these.
Jamie Hopkins, associate professor of taxation at The American College of Financial Services noted recently in Investment News, â€œNot listing fiduciary access to these assets in the will, trust or power of attorney could cause serious issues for the heirs and even result in a malpractice suit against the advisers, as the law in many states requires these clauses to stand alone in the documents and specifically discuss digital assets.â€
Federal law regarding access to a personâ€™s digital property does not currently exist. 29 states have now enacted legislation to protect digital assets called either the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADDA) or the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADDA). The states have established into law creating clear procedures that provide a decedentâ€™s family with rights to manage these assets after death.
An up-to-date list of enactments for each state can be found on the Uniform Law Commission site. It shows the bill sponsor and if it has been enacted or only introduced. The site also provides a good summary of (RUFADDA).
Beyond the legal documentation to handle digital assets, here are a few things experts say you can do to make it easier for a family member or successor trustee to manage your assets upon incapacity or death.
1) Make a list of all your digital assets, including the logins and passwords to the accounts. Make sure the designated fiduciary can find the list when needed.
2) Create a document with all digital assets. This could be creating a document such as this example and storing it in a locked safe, with your attorney, or on a cloud service such as Dropbox. You could also use a service like Everplans. The key to any of these storage options is that the information must be updated as changes to the accounts are made, such as password updates and account additions and subtractions.
3) Update your will(s), powers of attorney and any trusts that gives lawful consent to providers to divulge the electronic content to certain named people. Consult with your financial advisor or estate planning attorney to get the changes made.
4) Select your trustee, executer or representative. Create a clear and specific statement of intent as to who will have access to what information.
5) Save items (documents, photos, etc.) you want to keep to a specific location, like an external storage device, drive or use a cloud service so some or many of the digital assets are stored in the same place rather than scattered among many sites. This will make it much easier for the family member or trustee to locate.
6) Make sure to understand the terms and conditions of each account. Accounts like iTunes a non-transferrable license to purchase a digital asset. You are not really purchasing the digital asset.
With more and more of our information and assets being moved online, it is important to prepare for the transfer of or closing of these assets. Start by simply putting together a list of all your online accounts, assets and passwords using the list above.
Finally, sit down with your attorney or financial advisor to add them to your estate plan. With a little work and a plan for tracking and disposing (or passing on), these assets can be disclosed and distributed properly and make the administration process as easy as possible.
Note: The Digital Document Example referenced above in the link is from the website DigitalPassing.com, a blog created by Estate Planning Attorney, Jim Lamb.Â The site provides a good reference on the topic.