Whenever I am developing an estate plan for a client, my goal is to ensure that I protect their assets. But today, those assets go well beyond traditional estate planning focuses like retirement portfolios, homes and other valuables. Now we all need to consider “digital” assets. And while you may be saying, “I don’t have any digital assets”, I guarantee almost everyone has them and needs to protect them as part of their estate planning.
What are digital assets? Well, think about how many different user ID and passwords you have for various online banking, investment and credit card accounts. Those are all considered digital assets. And imagine if they fell into the wrong hands after you died, the hard “assets” they protected could be compromised. And that is only the tip of the digital asset iceberg. Think about all the other online accounts that require a user ID and password: Facebook, email accounts, Twitter, Instagram, Apple iTunes, YouTube, Social Security and the IRS, just to name a few. If you own a business, that list can be even longer and include website or WordPress accounts, online sales or purchasing accounts, online customer databases, online backup of computer files—the list goes on and on. In fact, it is not uncommon for an adult to have 25 or more online accounts. Most people have so many online accounts that an entire cottage industry of software programs exist just to help you remember and protect your ID’s and passwords!
That’s why I make sure I discuss this new area of assets with my estate planning clients and develop a plan to deal with them. That includes doing a complete inventory of ALL the client’s online accounts, and outlining the contents of each one, the URL address to connect to it, the user name and password needed to log into the account, what the client wants to do with the account after their death, and who they want to oversee such disposition.
While many of the online accounts you have won’t have any financial value, you may have some that do. For example, certain website domain names have sold for millions of dollars. And someone who is a photographer and stores all their photo files online could potentially have photographs and digital images that could be sold for lots of money.
Like everything else when developing an estate plan, you have to look at the total picture of your personal assets and determine who you want to get those when you die or what you want to do with them. As you can see, digital assets can be as important in the estate planning process as that 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar or that Mickey Mantle rookie card you have in mint condition in your collection. Obviously, you would make sure that either of these collectible items would be part of your estate plan. But as we continue to do and store more things online or on the “Cloud”, digital estate planning will become more the norm than an afterthought.
I always tell clients to do a video inventory of their home’s contents both for insurance purposes and to have for their estate plan. Now would be a good time for you to also sit down and put together a list of all your digital assets, store it on a flash drive or CD, and put it in your safe deposit box. That way, your heirs won’t have to jump through digital hoops to get access to your online accounts after you pass away.
If you would like to find out more about digital estate planning, please email me at email@example.com.