Our photos and personal memories are stored on our social media accounts or in the “cloud.” Our books, music, and videos are kept in online libraries. For many of us, even our currency may be stored in an e-wallet. These password-protected “digital assets” will exist long after we’re gone and overlooking your digital assets in estate planning can create massive headaches down the road for your loved ones.
Digital assets consist of any information you create that exists in either digital form or is stored on an electronic device. Types of digital assets include:
Social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest)
Cloud storage (iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive)
Music accounts (Pandora, Tidal, iTunes, Spotify)
Video streaming (Hulu, Netflix, YouTube)
Loyalty reward programs (Frequent-flyer miles, Hotel points)
Shopping (Amazon, eBay, Target, BestBuy)
Banking and money management accounts (PayPal, Venmo, Mint)
Other online accounts
Blogs you author
Software and data contained on computers, laptops, external hard drives, smartphones, iPads, and other digital devices
You can see from this list that our digital assets not only may have tremendous sentimental value, they may also have significant monetary value. Many of us nonetheless have trouble keeping track of our online accounts – let alone figuring out what to do with them when we die. Yet, if we want our digital valuables to be a part of our legacy, we have to leave others a way to access our accounts.
Some email providers, social media platforms and other sites now offer limited options as to what happens to your account after you die. But, there are no hard-and-fast rules, making it extremely difficult for your loved ones to navigate the disposition of your digital footprint after your death. The terms of service for each provider are different, and can change without notice.
Take, for example, Facebook. The social media platform allows you to designate a “Legacy Contact”, which is an individual who can memorialize your page after your death. This allows a verified person to update your profile picture, accept friend requests and pin notices on your timeline. Google offers a management option by which you can choose to have your account closed after a period of inactivity. But, that's about it. Whether there is a means to grant someone access to your account after you die is less straightforward.
Fortunately, Florida has enacted legislation that allows a trustee or executor to access digital assets on behalf of the deceased. There are important requirements, however, to ensure your family or friends—or whomever you decide to trust with your digital assets—are able to gain access to the digital assets. Given this law, we recommend that you:
Prepare a comprehensive list of all of your online account information, complete with logins and passwords.
Name a person in your estate documents to be your “digital asset fiduciary” and defining that person’s authority and limitations.
Immediately inform your digital asset fiduciary of the list you have made of your digital assets and where it is located.
Whatever you do, don't incorporate the list into your will, because wills become public record once probated. (You don’t necessarily want the world to know that your password is ‘ilikesally1988’ or ‘johnnycarsonishot’, much less open your accounts up to easy hacking). With the expanding digital world, it is critical to reevaluate your current estate plan to incorporate your wishes regarding any digital assets you have accumulated.
Ruth is the founder of Jackson Lee | PA, a consumer law firm recognized for slaying the toughest legal issues. In addition to being an attorney and wife of one, she's a mom to four future world-changers. Drop Ruth a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.