When you think about estate planning, chances are that your phone is not one of the first things that spring to mind. But you have digital assets stored on your phone, as well as your laptop, tablet, and online accounts, and you need to include management of digital assets as part of your estate plan. Unlike traditional assets with a physical presence or paper trail, digital assets can be effectively lost in cyberspace if you do not take the right steps to prepare.
Estate planning to protect digital assets involves many tasks you can do on your own. However, there are a few situations where you may want to consult your estate planning attorney for assistance or advice.
Inventory Your Digital Assets
A digital asset is anything that is stored, owned, and accessed completely online or in a digital format. When taking inventory of your digital assets, you need to consider items stored on your digital devices such as your phone as well as accounts you access online.
Your digital assets may include:
- Funds in online payment accounts (such as Zelle, Venmo, Paypal, and the Cash App)
- Online bank accounts without physical branches (such as Discover Online Savings)
- Loyalty points, credit card points, and frequent flier miles
- Cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and Ethereum)
- Data stored in cloud-based accounts
- Photos and videos
- Creative content such as blogs and websites
- Social media accounts
You will need to take steps to ensure that someone has the legal authority to access your online assets if you become incapacitated or when you pass away. Check with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your financial power of attorney authorizes your agent to manage digital assets. Even digital accounts without a current balance need to be addressed. These accounts can be accessed and used fraudulently if no one is monitoring them, so someone needs to be able to close the account after you pass away.
Establish Digital Personal Representatives for Your Digital Assets
Some companies have established provisions that allow you to designate a successor who can access your account after your death. Apple’s iPhone, for example, has a Legacy Contact feature to allow someone to access photos, contacts, and other data.
To activate the feature, users go through settings and security to reach the Legacy Contact option and choose someone from their contact list. Apple then generates an Access Keycode to share with the contact person. The feature allows you to designate multiple Legacy Contacts.
It is worthwhile to check with the companies that operate your other accounts to see if they have provisions to authorize someone else to access your account if you become incapacitated or when you pass away. While this can take considerable time, you will save your loved ones inestimable frustration and heartache.
At the very least, keep an updated list of accounts, usernames, passwords, and other information such as answers to security questions, and make sure your personal representative or trustee knows where to find that last.
Is it Time to Check in with Your Estate Planning Attorney?
Life changes and your estate plan needs to keep up to meet your needs. If your family has been through some adjustments or it has been a while since you reviewed your plan with your attorney, this might be a good time to check in and update provisions so that you know you’ll be fully prepared for the future. To speak with a member of the dedicated team at Sawyer & Sawyer, P.A. about how we could help, contact our office at any time to schedule a consultation.