In a world in which 77 percent of Americans are online every day, and on average spend nearly an hour of that day on social media, it’s safe to say the internet has become an integral part of our lives. What’s more, social media has become a “storage facility” of sorts for pictures, videos, and a wide range of personal information; this information is known as your “digital assets.” “Digital” means anything online or on your computer, including blogs, email accounts, and photos.
What most people don’t realize is that their digital assets need protection. (And I don’t just mean in the “cloud.”)
While the internet has undoubtedly made our lives easier at the simple push of a button, it’s imperative to think of what can and will happen to our online life after we’re gone, as it can be difficult for our loved ones to manage and preserve precious photos, or business partners to continue an ongoing blog. Don’t worry! There are estate plans even for your social media. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Digital Estate Planning?
Digital assets encompass all information that you store or use online; this includes social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. While you may not consider your digital assets to be worth anything, they have value! They store critical information and may have sentimental value as well. Some digital assets are valuable to a business, such as a lucrative blog.
So, how do you protect these types of assets? For one, when you plan for your estate you should include your digital assets because they are an asset owned by you. Start by making an inventory of your digital assets. Next, make arrangements in advance so your executor or trustee — the person in charge of your estate when you pass away — can access your accounts. A word of caution: providing usernames and passwords to another person, even your executor or successor trustee, can be a violation of the terms of service for many online accounts, and could cause trouble later. Many online providers, such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo!, have specific procedures for handling your account upon your death. In order to ensure that your wishes are carried out, you have to follow their rules. Contact each provider, and request instructions as to what you need to do now, in order to make things easier for your family after you are gone. Being proactive is key. You should also consider providing trusted individuals with access to your computer and backup hard drives, tablets, and smartphones. Because technology is constantly changing, regularly revisit your plan to ensure it is up to date with regard to digital assets. Of course, reviewing your estate plan every few years is a good idea in any case.
Coordinating Your Digital Assets With Your Estate Plans
Depending on where you live, your digital estate plan may need to be formalized into a legal document. You can then name an executor or trustee specifically for your digital assets or, alternatively, name someone with whom your executor or trustee can work to settle your digital estate. The most important thing is to lay out proper instructions for your executor or trustee, in order to easily direct him or her to the location of your digital asset inventory.
Due to probate, your Will becomes a public document upon your death; therefore, you should never put any of your username or password information in your Will. Instead, have your Will refer to an outside document that contains all the needed information regarding your digital assets. Because a trust is private, if you have a trust, no one outside your immediate family will have access to the personal information contained in your trust instrument. Therefore, you may wish to include your digital assets in your trust property.
Secure your privacy and valuable digital information, by taking the steps outlined above. Know that your private information remains exactly that… private.