Back in the day, there were checkbooks, stock and bond certificates and hardcopy statements showing your dividends and interest. Then again, there were only a handful of television viewing options, a test pattern at the end of the broadcast day and the youngest sibling was the “remote control” to change channels.
What estate planning have you done for your digital assets? Would your love ones be able to navigate your personal (and professional?) crazy quilt of digital accounts, portals and passwords when needed?
The conundrum of how to understand and plan for the maintenance of a digital life is not new, but it is growing. Everyone – people of all walks of life – has some tie to the internet and most have something worth protecting there. Much can be said about Facebook accounts for their social value and the sentimental value of pictures hosted there, but there is far more to it.
A recent article in The New York Times titled “Leaving Behind the Digital Keys to Financial Lives” picked up on this theme since we do most of our banking and investing online. If you go to the effort to document your legal wishes in an estate plan for the control and manage for your estate, then your loved ones at least know need to know the “what” and the “where” regarding your digital estate to properly control and manage it.
Unfortunately, digital accounts have few paper trails by their very nature and passwords may change every week. Simply put, you have to make plans now to hand over the keys to your digital estate later ... and that often can take more diligence than planning for the keys of the family home.
As helpfully summed up in the original article:
People needed to think about five things to ensure that everything goes smoothly with their digital financial lives if they become incapacitated or die: they need to maintain a list of their digital information; send the information to someone they trust; make sure other people know who has the information; leave instructions for how everything should be handled; and note all of this in an estate plan and update it regularly.
Remember: When making your financial, tax and estate plans, don't go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
Reference: The New York Times (May 24, 2013) “Leaving Behind the Digital Keys to Financial Lives”