How Do You Protect Digital Assets & Social Media Accounts After Death?
From how we access our money to where we store our photographs, many aspects of life that used to involve in-person interactions and tangible property now exist online. As a result, the concept of “digital assets” has become mainstream, and these digital assets are taking on an increasingly-prominent role in the estate planning process.
What is a digital asset? In short, a digital asset is anything you own that exists on your phone, tablet, or computer, or that resides in the “cloud” online. While the complete universe of digital assets is far too extensive to summarize, some common examples include:
- iTunes and other proprietary music and video platforms
- Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other streaming service subscriptions
- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media profiles
- PayPal, Venmo, and other online bank accounts and wallets
- Digital photo, video and document storage platforms
How many of these do you have? Now, what will happen to them when you die?
Estate Planning for Digital Assets
In general terms, estate planning for digital assets is much the same as estate planning for all other forms of personal property. You want to make sure you provide clear direction as to who should own your digital assets after your death, and you want to do so using the most-appropriate estate planning tools. By most-appropriate, we mean those which will provide the greatest overall benefit with regard to: (i) avoiding or minimizing the scope of probate, (ii) mitigating or eliminating tax liability, and (iii) ensuring that your assets will be used as you intend. For many people, this will mean placing some or all of their digital assets into a revocable living trust; however, a will can also be a good option in some circumstances, and it will often make sense to execute a power of attorney with regard to digital assets as well.
But, when it comes to digital assets, specifying who gets what only gets you so far. If your family members or other beneficiaries do not know how to access your digital assets, this can present a significant hurdle. While it is possible to gain access to digital assets with the appropriate estate planning documents in hand, it is far easier if your beneficiaries simply have your account information.
If you (like most people) do not want to share your logins and passwords during your lifetime, how can you make sure they get passed on when the time comes? Here, you have a few options.
- You can include provisions in your estate plan that let your executor know where to find a list of your access credentials (i.e. in a personal safe)
- You can place the list into trust with strict provisions for confidentiality
- You can use an online password keeper such as 1Password.com or LastPass.com and designate a successor who can access these vaults.
In any case, it is important to make sure that you keep the list updated over time, as having a list of expired passwords is just as good as having no list at all. We assist clients with this planning.
There are various other considerations involved in estate planning for digital assets as well. For example, what should happen with your social media accounts? In order to preserve your legacy and avoid unnecessary stress and uncertainty for your loved ones, it is important to provide as much guidance as possible.
Schedule an Initial Estate Planning Consultation
For more information about how to address your digital assets in your estate plan, please contact us to schedule a confidential initial consultation. To speak with one of our experienced estate planning lawyers in Cambridge, MA, please call (855) 743-3136 or request an appointment online today.