Digital Assets & Updating Your Estate Plan to Reflect the Modern World

Jun 2012

Technology has come a long way in the last decade and continues to improve each year with new products. The terms “digital assets” and “social media” are becoming commonplace. Think about the typical household: They probably own a home computer, a laptop, maybe a tablet computer (anyone bought an I-pad lately?); a couple of I-pods and let’s not forget the smartphone – no one can leave home without one, including the kids! Even though we can take photos and videos with our smartphone today, we probably also own a digital camera as well.

Let’s also not forget the social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, your own website or blog, various email accounts, back-up storage sites and on-line shopping accounts like Amazon. There are many on-line accounts created for banks, college savings accounts (state 529 plans or a U-promise account for example) which are funded and no one may know about. Maybe you track your finances with QuickBooks or do your own taxes with Turbo Tax – the list goes on and on.

With the ever increasing ownership of digital assets it is becoming more important to start including these items in our estate planning. If you suddenly passed away, would your heirs or estate administrator know what hardware you own and more importantly how to obtain important documents contained on them. More and more individuals are not keeping hard copies of important documents, but instead are keeping copies stored on their computers. It would be almost impossible to know what you have or to even gain access to these accounts without the knowledge and proper access information.

Including your digital assets in your estate plan is similar to other assets; it just takes a bit of planning and some organization. Here is a brief guideline to get you started:

• Like other assets you own, start an inventory of your digital assets and on-line accounts. Include where they are located and access information (i.e. website addresses, user ID and passwords, and important files located on your computer). This list should be kept in a safe place with your other important papers like your will and trust documents. As these items will change over time, it will be imperative to keep the list updated.

• If you are self-employed or even an employee who does a lot of work from home, you may have essential Excel or Word files on your computer that will need to be given to someone right away. Make sure instructions are also left for these important work-related documents.

• Think about the successor to take care of these assets. This person doesn’t have to be the main trustee or administrator of your estate, but can be chosen specifically to handle your digital assets and on-line accounts. This individual should have some tech savvy and understand your wishes regarding these digital assets. These instructions can even be written as part of your will or trust documents. You may even want to add this person in your Power of Attorney with instructions for this person to handle these same affairs in the event of your disability or incapacitation.

• The appointed person can also configure your e-mail account(s) so an auto-response is created informing senders of your passing and who to contact and/or forward information to. Many of us have multiple e-mail accounts for various reasons, so make sure they are all identified.

• Photos and videos now stored on your computer can be passed on to your family or friends.
Many people start researching their ancestry and have these files stored as well, so make sure these files can be located with instructions to whom these sentimental items should be passed on to.

Although no one likes preparing for their eventual death, it is an important task to ensure our wishes are adhered to and all of our assets are accounted for, both traditional and digital!

If you don’t have an estate plan, or feel that you may need your current documents updated, please contact Jonathan Goldberg at 248-932-5200 to review and advise you on your estate planning needs.

Look for more of Cindy Szymanski’s insightful financial perspective in her monthly column,
Cindy’s Corner: A Woman’s Financial Perspective, in the Rick Bloom Email Newsletter, or by clicking this link for her latest article:

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