Your Digital Estate

Today, few things delay the cost and time of directing an estate more than leaving an electronic wreck for successors to clean up. Many individuals fail to incorporate electronic assets into their estate plans.

Many individuals don’t understand the degree of their digital footprint and the potential issues they’re passing on to the people who will inherit their estate.

In most cases, estate planning law has caught up with technological advances. A few years ago, digital assets and service providers set their own rules and regulations to justify refusing to give family members and heirs access to a deceased person’s digital life. The providers pointed to a federal law that made accessing someone else’s accounts illegal.

Most states have passed laws similar to Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Acts. Generally, an agent can oversee PC files, web domains, and virtual monies unless a will or other legal document explicitly prohibits it. All the agent needs to do is give evidence that the person in question is approved to act as the agent.

In any case, the law doesn’t permit the agent to get to email, instant messages, web-based entertainment accounts, and other computerized resources without express consent in a will, trust, legal authority, or other authoritative record or court request.

To avoid your heirs engaging in a legal battle over your electronic assets or communications, you must be clear in your will, trust, and legal documents. Without legally binding documents, your estate could be hard to settle.

Some people divide access to their accounts. Their goal is to limit access to emails, social media, cell phones, and other assets to a surviving spouse, family member, or friend. Any relevant information can be forwarded to the agent by that person.

The agent has access to all financial accounts and accounts needed to settle the estate.

Some people name an agent they feel comfortable giving access and control over all electronic assets in their legal documents. If you decide to divide, choose the method that works best for you.

In any case, that is just the first and simplest move in planning the digital aspect of your estate. Unless you take steps to resolve the situation, your agent or beneficiaries will face many issues.

You need to make a comprehensive list of your digital assets. A digital asset is any account or service that is protected by a username and password. Many people are often surprised by how many digital assets they possess. Digital assets include emails, social media, cloud accounts, subscriptions, credit card accounts that allow electronic payments, and apps on your phone. Even medical records are moving online. Even if they have a physical address, any account with a digital footprint should be included; if you’ve used their online or phone services, include them. Accounts at banks and brokerage firms fall under this category.

The agent in charge of your estate will need to know them all. There is a growing trend toward digitalization, and as a result, many companies require a two-factor verification for the online transaction. When you enter your password, you will receive a code via text, phone call, or email that you need to enter. Two-factor verification prevents account theft and makes it harder for an unknown person to access your account. This verification will also make it harder for the people dealing with your estate. 

If your phone is using biometrics, such as facial scans or fingerprints, be sure to have an alternative way to access your mobile device. You can designate who will be able to access your phone if you advise Apple or Google before you die, under their legacy contracts.

Consider using a password manager to make things easier on yourself and your heirs. A free one is Apple\s iCloud Keychain and Google’s Password Manager. A third-party password manager that works across devices is also an option. Most third-party password managers charge a yearly fee, typically less than 50 dollars.  Using a password manager would make it easier to pass on; instead of knowing all, your agent will only need to know the one to unlock your password manager.