As a society, we are now firmly in the digital age—and with this comes new frontiers for estate planning. It is increasingly common for individuals to manage their financial lives through online platforms. The creation of digital assets brings about the necessity of a digital executor, such that your online affairs may be managed according to your wishes in the event of your passing. Books have been written about the subject, but most of what you need to know can be distilled down to three simple points.
1. Passwords. The executor of your digital affairs must have access to the passwords for all your online accounts. Without this, a horror story may ensue. A client once shared an anecdote with our team explaining that, when her husband passed away, he overlooked leaving behind his login ID and password for their bank account, and, as a result, the bank would not grant her access to their accounts. As the husband had gone paperless, the client had no way of knowing when bills were due and consequently racked up a terrifying number of delinquent accounts. In order to avoid such a tragedy, you might consider using a password management program such as 1Password, Dashlane, or LastPass which, by acting as a central hub, allow you to create one password for all online accounts. This single, master password may then be stored in a safety deposit box to which your executor will gain access after your death.
2. Executive authority. Accessing someone else’s online accounts continues to be legally murky territory, and while lawmakers and tech companies are working to create a solution to accommodate digital executors, it is helpful to formalize your designee through inclusion in your will along with explicit permission to log in using your passwords and to act on your behalf. Speak with an estate planning attorney and update your existing plan with this information, if needed.
3. Knowledge of your wishes. As it becomes the norm to curate one’s personal image through social media platforms, it likewise becomes important to let your executor know how to manage these spaces once you’re gone. It may be that you want your tweets preserved for posterity, or your Instagram maintained such that future grandchildren have access to these memories. Alternatively, you might want your digital presence wiped clean. Whatever your preference, it is important to put it to paper and communicate it clearly to those designated to act on your behalf.
For better or for worse, your internet persona will endure long after your physical body passes. This may be a blessing or a curse for your loved ones. The best way to ensure that it is the former is to take time now to think about how to manage this part of your life now, while you are living.
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Digital estate planning is just one of many things to consider while planning your estate. Don’t be overwhelmed by the details…that’s what we’re here for! Contact us using the form below and we’ll be in touch to answer your questions and guide you in the direction of peace of mind.