In today’s digital age, our lives have transcended the tangible. Photos, letters, and financial accounts, which were once stored in drawers, file cabinets and safes, are now often saved in the cloud or on hard drives. As our digital footprints grow, the importance of including digital assets in estate planning becomes even more important. Similar to our tangible assets, if our digital assets are not effectively planned for, they might be lost, inaccessible, or misused after we have passed away.
Understanding Digital Assets
Digital assets can be broadly classified into:
- Financial Assets: This includes online banking, investments, retirement accounts, cryptocurrencies, online payment services like PayPal, and any other financial instruments or platforms that operate digitally.
- Social Media and Email: Accounts like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and email services like Gmail or Outlook.
- Digital Collections: eBooks, digital music, movies, and other online collections.
- Personal Data: Photos, videos, blogs, backup files, and other personal documents stored digitally.
- Business Assets: Websites, domains, blogs, online stores, affiliate accounts, and other online business resources.
- Online memberships or subscriptions.
- Digital rights: Items such as copyrights, trademarks, and patents.
- Any other digital property or presence.
Steps to Protect Digital Assets
Inventory Your Assets
Begin by listing all of your digital assets. It is essential to be comprehensive. Even assets that might not seem valuable, such as personal photos, may hold sentimental value for your loved ones.
Appoint a “Digital Representative”
Just as you would choose someone to handle your physical assets, it is smart to designate a person to be responsible for managing, distributing, or closing your digital assets. The designated individual should be tech-savvy and trustworthy. For your digital representative to effectively manage your digital assets, you will need to provide a way to give them access when the time becomes necessary. This can include:
- Security questions and answers
- Pin numbers
- Two-factor authentication methods
Note that storing this information requires careful security. You might consider using a secure password manager that has estate planning or emergency access features. Always make sure any method you use is compliant with state laws and the terms of service of the platforms. Make sure that you provide clear instructions by indicating how you would like each digital asset to be handled. Do you want accounts closed, memorialized, transferred, or something else? Be as detailed as possible.
Review Service Agreements
Some platforms (for example, Google or Facebook) have specific policies or tools, like Google’s Inactive Account Manager or Facebook’s Legacy Contact, designed to address account management after death. Be aware of these features and incorporate them into your planning.
Awareness of Cryptocurrencies
If you own cryptocurrencies, be especially diligent. Crypto holdings can be lost forever if access details are not available. Besides passwords, ensure that hardware wallets, recovery phrases, and other critical access tools are part of your estate planning.
Regularly Update Your Plan
Digital lives are constantly changing. Regularly update your digital assets inventory, especially when you create new accounts or change passwords.
Stay Updated with the Law
The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) is a framework that has been adopted by many states, including Minnesota. It provides guidelines on how fiduciaries can access and manage digital assets. Ensure that your estate planning instructions are in line with this or any other relevant state legislation.
Inform Key People
Let trusted family members or friends know you have a digital plan in place. They do not need to know all the details, but knowing of its existence can be crucial.
Consider Digital Afterlife Services
There are services and platforms designed to help individuals plan for their digital afterlife, ensuring that accounts are closed, messages are sent, or other posthumous digital actions are taken.
Contact Mullen Law Firm Today
Estate planning can be complicated, especially when it involves digital assets. An attorney can help you sort through the complexities and ensure that your wishes are honored. Our firm can assist you in documenting and enforcing your wishes regarding your digital assets. If you need assistance with your estate plan, contact the Mullen Law Firm today to schedule an initial consultation.
The legacy we leave behind is no longer solely physical. Our digital memories, assets, and connections form a significant part of who we are. As such, ensuring the protection and appropriate management of our digital assets after our passing is not just a logistical need but a gesture of care for those we leave behind. Taking proactive steps now will prevent potential complications and provide clarity and access to the treasures and tools of our digital lives.