The Toronto Estate Law Blog has covered the topic of digital assets here and here, as well as electronic registries here. This subject is getting increased attention with the clear shift to reliance on digital documents, assets and accounts.
An interesting aspect relating to the management and ownership of digital property is the designation of trusted recipients to take control of that property upon death. As discussed in yesterday’s blog about the launch of Estate Assist’s beta version for smartphones, it can be tricky for family and friends to deal with a deceased person’s online presence post-death for a variety of reasons.
Another concern is that family members or friends may be at a loss as to what the deceased person’s wishes were in regards to their online and/or social media presence.
Via Estate Assist, users can designate one or more persons that will be granted, either immediately or at a later time, access to important documents and passwords. This designation process would, at the least, alleviate some of the issues associated with leaving digital documents, assets and accounts without an authority to take control of them. However, there remains the issue of one’s wishes regarding their digital legacy.
Communication with those who one has entrusted to handle their property upon death is an important aspect of estate planning, both for digital and non-digital property. As with all estate planning decisions, it is important to think rationally about the best person to designate for each role. One may want their spouse to be the executor of their estate but designate one of their children or a lawyer to deal with digital assets due to their spouse’s lack of technological knowledge and skill. Regardless of the situation, informing a family member or friend of your wishes is often recommended in order to avoided surprises and confusion.
Furthermore, by designating someone to deal with one’s digital legacy upon death, one is able to adequately give instructions as to the preferred manner of dealing with this unique asset class. For example, while one person may want their social media accounts deleted immediately, another may prefer their online presence carry on for a specified or indefinite period of time after death. By designating someone to deal with online assets and giving them the tools needed to do so, a good deal of time and energy can be saved.