The times are changing, as we all know. In the world of estate planning, the biggest change has been an overall change in personal assets. Instead of journals and photo albums, many people now keep their memories online, on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. In fact, the average internet user is signed up for as many as 26 accounts and maintains 10 separate passwords.
How do you account for these invaluable intangible assets in your estate plan? Unfortunately, there are some variables that can confuse people. For one, it’s often unclear exactly who owns digital assets. The terms of service for many internet services spells that out, and it may come as a surprise. Many internet platforms claim to own all the materials in your account.
Moreover, some online services are based abroad, or managed by third parties who are based abroad. That may mean that ownership over your digital assets may be governed by foreign law, or it may be difficult to find an appropriate party to serve with a U.S. court order.
To create an effective estate plan, you would ideally know who officially owns each of your digital assets, where the asset is located, whether the company has an inheritance policy and who can access your account if you die.
Tips for estate planning around digital assets
As with any estate planning process, the first thing to do is to determine your goals. What would you like to happen to your online accounts, blogs, photo albums and the like? Should they be deleted or memorialized? Who, if anyone, would you like to have access?
The next step is to create a list of all your accounts. Identify the terms and conditions of each account as they relate to how the account is treated upon death. If a legacy contact has been designated, note down that person.
A list of passwords is crucial. This is also true for other online accounts such as online banking and credit card sites, but it’s even more important for less concrete assets like these. You can ultimately get access to bank accounts during the probate process even if you can’t access them online. For digital memories and social media, you will almost certainly need the password or a way to reset it.
Please be aware that some the terms of service for online platforms forbid access by anyone other than the designated user. Your loved ones may violate the terms of service by logging in with your password.
Finally, write down what you would like to happen with your digital assets. This can be done as a memorandum or a page in your will or estate plan.