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Creating a Digital Estate Plan in a Few Steps

Creating a Digital Estate Plan in a Few Steps December 10, 2013 —

Unless you’re one of those people with a few family heirlooms and one heir, there is no doubt that a will is essential. According to recent statistics, chances are good that much of the value of your estate exists online. Despite this, there is a very good chance none of those assets are contained in your estate plan, especially if it was crafted more than ten years ago.

Yes, it really did happen that fast.

Your Digital Estate Plan

Go dig out that estate plan that you forgot about, and see. As little as ten years ago, the Internet was that place you went to when you wanted to “look up something. Google was largely just a search engine, most banks offered the convenience of looking up your statements on their website, but little else. We didn’t have smartphones that kept us instantly and constantly connected with everyone and everything in our lives.

Now, however, we practically live online. So if you take a look at that plan, and you have a will, a living will and a health directives made all of your funeral arrangements, and you’ve made appointments as executors, trustees and guardians, as needed, and think you’re finished, think again. If you’re typical, you’ll also have to put together a plan for your digital assets, as well.

We are not just talking about your bank accounts.  What about the pictures you take with your smartphone, and the number of cloud services they automatically upload to? How about all of the movies you’ve purchased that are kept on the cloud? How about the videos of your kids you uploaded to YouTube? While many of these “assets” have little or no monetary value, journals, files and information stored can contain a massive personal value, and the information stored can contain the key to countless assets which actually do hold true value. Statistics show that a substantial amount of assets go unclaimed every year, and this is increasing exponentially as bank statements are increasingly delivered online and so forth.

Still think there is nothing there?

So, how do you put together this digital estate plan? Here are some tips for how to get started.

Inventory Your Digital Relationships

This one looks easy, but it’s the hardest part.

Include everything. That includes all social networking accounts, blogs or websites you own, all financial accounts and bill payment accounts you access online or through an app, online payment accounts, email accounts, photo, audio or video sites you use, music and video download accounts and sites, and any other online accounts and cloud services where something you value is stored, be it frequent flier miles, your poetry, or the novel you’ve been working on.

When you have that list compiled, put the information somewhere safe, since someone accessing it would be able to assume your identity and access your entire online life. One great idea is to use the services at this website, which securely encrypts and stores all of that information in one completely secure place.

Pay particular attention to subscription relationships and online businesses. These often require additional instructions.

Next, Name a “Digital Executor.”

The person you chose as executor of your physical assets may be able to take this on, but not necessarily. Like any executor, this person should be capable of being impartial and able to handle the responsibility of managing complex affairs and the incentive do do so with care and precision.  Bear in mind that this can be rather mundane and complex and the right person for the job is critical.

When you’ve chosen the right person or persons, be sure to name them as “digital executor” in your will, and give them power of attorney over your digital accounts, since he or she may need it to access them after you die.

Write Explicit Instructions for your Digital Executor 

While your account itself (through a transfer on death or beneficiary designation) may spell out the terms for distribution of your online information, the management of your transaction accounts, media/photo accounts and so forth will have to be addressed. Be aware and cautious regarding the recording of your username and password. Not only does this permit a person with access an opportunity for misconduct, but the use of such information can result in improper acts, violation of the terms of use and so forth.

One suggested way of doing this is through creation of a to-do list outlining what you want done about all things digital when you die. Then, make sure these instructions – and the list you made above – can be accessed by your digital executor when the time comes.

Among the questions you should answer is whether or not you want your social media accounts preserved or deactivated, and who you want to have various photos and video collections. Make sure you consult the Terms of Service for each account, to be sure that what you want to do can be done legally. Keep in mind, TOS often takes precedence over state laws in these matters.

You Might Want to Post a Final Message Online

One increasingly common feature of digital estate plans includes a desire to send a final online message to friends and family, or perhaps others. If you want to do that, record the message or messages, and make sure the audio or video is available to the digital executor, along with detailed instructions for how and where you want it posted.

Consider a service such as the one provided by Family Archival Solutions which was created to perform all of these functions. One advantage (of many) of a dedicated service is to make sure that the instructions are found and data preserved. It would seem that the loss of instructions is as common as the failure to prepare instructions in the first place.

This article was provided by Family Archival Solutions, Inc.  The article is not intended to provide legal or other advice and readers are strongly encouraged to seek professional guidance in connection with estate planning and preparation.  Family Archival Solutions offers a wide range of family preparation services. Copyright © 2013 www.familyarchivalsolutions.com. All rights reserved.