Many of today’s seniors are just as tech-savvy as their children and grandchildren, and if they weren’t good with technology before the Covid pandemic, they probably are now. For people who can’t easily get out of the house, online banking, shopping, bill paying, and money transfers are a real lifeline. But what happens to all of that data if something happens to you? If you don’t have a record of your online activity and a plan for transferring digital assets, you could be putting your estate at risk.
What Are Digital Assets?
Technological advances are happening at the speed of light. Think about all the things we can do now that we couldn’t have even imagined a few years ago. Video calls with the grandchildren. Paying someone with just your phone. Storing photos on a tiny computer chip instead of in an album. Who would have thought that’s where we would be now? Certainly not someone who wrote their estate plan 40 years ago.
What we think of as digital assets today could only scratch the surface of the computerized property we might have a few years from now, which is why it is smart to make a plan to handle things like the following:
- Online financial accounts
- Social media accounts
- Digital photos, music, and books
- Email archives
- Cloud storage accounts
- Computer and cell phone hard drives
- Money held in digital wallets or on shopping sites
- Bitcoin or other forms of cyber currency
Protecting some of these assets means protecting your privacy and security. If there is a particular person you trust, you would want them to have access to things like your email and social media accounts. For assets with true financial value, you want to make sure your financial power of attorney can access them and that they are included in your will.
Steps to Take to Protect Your Digital Assets
In order to ensure access to your full estate—include digital assets—and to protect private online communication from prying eyes, you will want to include the following in your estate plan:
- Financial power of attorney for digital assets. Even if you already have a financial or durable power of attorney, you might need to revise the document to make sure it authorizes your agent to access your online accounts and provides login information so they can do so. Remember that a power of attorney is only enforceable if you are incapacitated. Once you pass away, your estate is handled by the executor of your will, which may or may not be the same person.
- Instructions for password-protected accounts. You might want to include instructions in your will for handling your Google or Apple accounts, social media accounts, dating or professional profiles, and other password-protected sites. There are several options for making your passwords available to the person you have designated, including storing a written list in a safe place and using an online password-storage service such as LastPass or Keeper.
- Beneficiaries for digital property. If you have an extensive and valuable digital collection of books, movies, and music, you should list them in your will and name the person you want to inherit them. The same is true for photographs. Make sure you have back-up copies of these digital files in an easy-to-access location, such as on a USB drive you keep in a safe.
Just like the technology itself, your digital assets, passwords, online accounts, computers, and cell phones will evolve and change from year to year. It is important to review your instructions for digital assets every year.
Ross & Shoalmire Keep Up With the Times
It’s hard to keep up with changes in technology, but when you meet with our attorneys to write a new estate plan or to review an existing plan, we will help you take account of your digital assets and make a plan to protect your online privacy and your “virtual” property. Our goal is to make sure you can pass on as much of your wealth to your heirs as possible—whether your riches are sentimental, financial, or digital. Contact our team to talk about your options today.