In today’s digital age, many individuals live at least a part of their life online. Whether you share your life with others through e-mail, Facebook posts, and tweets, or simply have a number of online, password protected accounts, you’ll want to make plans for the disposition of all of your digital assets in the event of your death or incapacity.
Laws still developing
Unfortunately, the laws governing digital assets are not well settled. Only a small number of states have estate laws that specifically cover digital assets, and those laws are relatively new and untested. Like most states, Iowa does not have laws that specifically authorize an executor or trustee access to digital accounts.* However, many estate planning attorneys are encouraging clients to add language to their wills and trusts to include authorization to digital accounts in anticipation of a new law in the future.
Review website’s terms of service
For the most part, websites, blogs, and registered domain names are transferable under standard property and copyright laws. However, certain online accounts (e.g., e-mail, social media accounts) may not be transferable, depending on the site’s terms of service. Terms of service vary widely from site to site. Some sites will allow a person with the appropriate legal authority to access your accounts upon your death. Others will put your accounts in a “memorial state” or permanently delete your account upon proper notification of your death.
Include digital assets in estate plan
The most important step you can take to protect your digital assets is to include them in your estate plan, just as you would your physical assets. Your first step should be to identify and inventory all of your digital assets. Make a list of where your assets are located and how they are accessed (e.g., username and password). Next, indicate what you wish to happen to your digital assets (e.g., transfer to an heir or terminate) and who will be responsible for carrying out those wishes (e.g., an executor). Be sure to refer to this inventory in your will (but keep it separate since your will eventually becomes public information).
If privacy issues surrounding your digital assets are a real concern, a number of online websites securely store all of your digital asset information and allow you to leave legacy instructions for a designated beneficiary or executor. The costs of these types of services vary, depending upon the services offered.