You may have drawn up a detailed estate plan considering all of your physical assets and beneficiaries, but still missed a crucial piece of your estate. In today’s world, our assets are increasingly digital or bound up in the digital universe by passwords and encoding.
Think pictures saved in the cloud over the years or letters you may have lovingly composed. Think bank accounts or blogs, websites and online stores, gift cards, balances kept on Amazon or an online wallet. What about your social media, investment accounts, insurance policies online, or email accounts? Do you have copyrighted works or digital signatures and trademarks?
What are Digital Assets?
Many of us own digital assets valued at $35,000 or more. This includes owning websites or domains, channels of marketing streams or videos, content that you created in online blogs or journals, cryptocurrencies, online photo albums, online shops, collections of photographs or edited videos, memberships with benefits such as hotel stays or flights, and digital assets stored on physical drives with passwords that are uncrackable as a layman.
Are Snooping and Hacking Legal?
In some states, there are hacking laws preventing anyone, including a spouse from accessing someone else’s data, even if they pass away. The laws are in place to help prevent identity theft, but can cause confusion and fear of the criminality of “snooping”. However, if you pass away, your loved one will need to find the passwords to retrieve your account information. You don’t want to frustrate your loved ones with sifting through mountains of data trying to find what is relevant while also grieving your loss.
Digital Data is Often Highly Sensitive and Personal
Do you have personal digital data like private emails, saved text messages, or essays?
It is crucial to consider whether you want your beneficiaries going through ALL of your digital data trying to find what is important in a veritable sea of information. Most of us have moments that we consider private or personal that we would rather not share, even upon death. Thinking about these issues ahead of time can give you peace of mind moving forward.
Assign a Fiduciary Trustee
According to a law signed in 2016, NC digital account owners can provide a trustee with authority to manage their digital assets. In NC, you can add a codicil to your will, which declares a fiduciary trustee to go through your accounts and retrieve what is valuable to your beneficiaries. Even if you finished the process of estate planning years ago, you could speak with your lawyer about adding on a plan for your digital assets. A will is not the place for naming the locality and passwords of your online accounts. After your death, a will is public knowledge. A codicil for your trustee with your private information is the best way to make sure that your assets are distributed within your wishes.
Prepare Your Plan
After choosing your trustee, it is important to decide where to store your passwords and keep the account information for your digital assets. You’ll need a place to keep your account information up to date for your trustee. Making a plan that will give access to your trustee upon your death or incapacitation is crucial. It is crucial to place your plan in an accessible place for your trustee. If you would like to keep passwords separate, you could choose one of several password manager programs. Check out this blog by CNET to get started The Best Password Managers for 2020 – CNET Most importantly, let your trusted lawyer know where you are keeping this information and how the trustee can act on your behalf when needed.
Incompetence and Incapacitation
Another situation that needs to be covered in your digital estate plan is if you become incapacitated and need a guardian to manage your life. How will they know where to find your account information and handle your issues as they arise? The last thing you need in this situation is to have an insurance policy that covers you but that no one knows about. What if you are only struggling with health for a time and then come back to your senses again? Will your accounts be up to date and as you left them? A power of attorney gives someone the right to manage your digital assets in the event of incapacitation or the power to a guardian if you become incompetent to manage on your own.
Seek Out Wise Counsel
Feeling confused and worried after realizing that you have more estate planning to do? See out the advice of a trusted attorney. Planning in advance with a knowledgeable lawyer can reduce the chance of arguments or disagreements about your wishes. Planning can also make the process of probate smooth and uncomplicated. Give your friends and loved ones the gift of knowing what your wishes are. Give them time to grieve unhindered by hard-to-find technical details. With a bit of planning now, the focus can be on the life you lived and the legacy you leave behind.