Digital Assets And Estate Planning – What Anyone With An Email Address Or Social Media Account Needs To Know
What are digital assets?
The term sounds really quite sophisticated. But, digital assets are commonplace. A digital asset in an electronic asset that is associated with the right to use, usually in the form of a username and password.
Given their medium, digital assets are slightly different than most assets. They are highly regulated by state and federal law. Without proper planning, those regulations can cause problems when it comes time to administer an estate.
How common are digital assets? Very! Common examples include:
• Social media: Facebook, Twitter
• Digital photos, images and videos (such as the photos stored on your iCloud account)
• Email: Gmail and Yahoo
• Bank accounts and other financial accounts
• Airline miles
Less common but still run-of-the mill for many of us who have our own businesses, include certain income-generating digital assets:
• Monetized YouTube channel, blog
• Social media influencer accounts
• Income generating blogs
• Intellectual property (patents, copyrights, trademarks)
• Domain name and websites
• Client lists
Often loved ones left in the wake of a death need to take pragmatic steps such as paying bills, or even accessing emails to invite friends to their relative’s funeral. Problems arise when loved ones lack login credentials or consent to access these accounts.
Having a digital asset plan in place can really assist loved ones in taking these steps. It’s a best practice to include a list of digital assets, along with username and password information. For a list of CNET’s best password managers, click here.
Digital asset custodians are absolute sticklers when it comes to protecting these accounts because of the many federal and state laws at play. Federal law prohibits service providers from releasing the content of digital assets without the account holder’s prior consent. A person who has passed away is obviously unable to give that consent anymore. So, without proof of that consent, a loved one may have to request a court order to gain access.
For example, should a relative pass away you may want to simply shut down their email accounts or iCloud accounts. Hackers prey on inactive accounts. So, it’s a best practice to place an account into inactive status, or the equivalent.
Or, perhaps you simply want to access family photos that are stored on the iCloud. The language included in an estate plan in which a deceased person has granted express consent to a particular person may be all that is needed for a loved one to access the deceased person’s email or iCloud account.
With some estate planning, digital assets can be accessed by loved ones. It’s one more piece to the estate planning puzzle that is not discussed often enough, and impacts all of us.
How To Protect Your Digital Assets
There are some simple steps that certain providers offer their users. Certain providers such as Facebook and Google offer legacy plans which allow specific individuals, designated by you, the ability to manage and /or memorialize the account of a deceased person.
As great as the option is; however, even the legacy planning provides some limitations. After the death of a loved one, you may be able to memorialize an account, but the provider may not allow you access the content of those accounts. And, of course, these plans are only offered by a limited number of providers.
To read more about Facebook’s legacy planner, click here:
To read more about Google’s legacy planner, click here:
Please contact me for a complimentary consultation to discuss your options with regard to this aspect of estate planning.