What did you get for Christmas? If like many the answer is a tablet computer or smart phone – that one-stop device where you can read a newspaper, download music, shop, check your bank accounts – you need to plan your digital estate.With more and more of us conducting our financial affairs online, digital estate planning has become a necessity rather than an option.
You may have been organised and made a will but what happens if your executors cannot access your online accounts or are unaware of their existence? Your executors have a duty to establish the value of your estate, pay off any creditors and to distribute your remaining assets to your beneficiaries. If they cannot access your digital assets, they will fail in their duty.
Four ways to plan your digital estate
1. Make a list
Make a list of all your online accounts, iTunes, Amazon, PayPal, etc so that your executor knows where to find your assets.
You will need to record all of your login details and passwords in order for your executor to gain access to your accounts. Be sure to keep this in a very safe place and record where it is kept, possibly leaving details of its whereabouts with your Will.
Tip – Do not list your usernames and passwords in the body of your will. If this goes to probate it will become a matter of public record.
2. State your wishes
Now, think about what you want to happen with each account. Be specific.
For example, do you want to memorialise your Face Book page? Do you want your Twitter account deleting?
Tip – Most service providers will not transfer accounts. If the account holder dies, they will close the account and delete its contents. If you are happy for this to happen, do not include your passwords in your digital estate plan. Instead request that your executor contact the service provider to close the account without further access.
3. Service provider policies
Some digital service providers have amended their policies to handle the complexities of dealing with digital assets after the account holder’s death. For example, some email providers will provide the executor with a copy of the deceased’s emails rather than allow access and Face Book will allow you to memorialise the deceased account holder’s timeline on proof of death.
Tip -You can opt into Google’s Inactive Account Manager which will contact your chosen recipient if your account is inactive for a specified period.
4. Designate a digital executor
If the main executor of your will is not techno-savvy, you may want to appoint a digital executor to work alongside them. Pick someone you trust and then authorise them to maintain or delete your digital assets.
There is no guarantee that each service provider will deal with your digital executor – each provider has their own policy – but it should help if you make your wishes clear.
A digital estate plan will not remove all of the problems of owning digital assets but it will certainly make life easier for your executor.