The latest frontier in the traditionally conservative field of estate planning is determining what rules apply to the passing, control and access to digital assets. Digital assets whether on your personal computer, on the cloud or in the servers of companies like Facebook are personal and valuable to you and your loved ones to access, maintain and retrieve.
As members of highly technological and digital society, our online presence is ever expanding. Online accounts related to games, apps, and social media have become valuable assets. Even though these items do not necessarily create issues related to ownership, it is important to take into account your digital life when putting together a comprehensive estate plan.
Social Media: True Immortality?
Facebook is one social media platform that has entered the realm of estate planning. The company has begun to consider how to handle accounts owned by individuals who have passed away and introduced a mechanism where an account holder is allowed to designate a “legacy contact.”
This ultimately provides another person with the ability to administer and access an account if the account holder dies. The digital representative assigned in this situation is then allowed to post messages and pictures in the stead of the deceased or ultimately remain silent while preserving the memory of the individual online.
Another feature that Facebook has introduced is that of an advance directive. Users are now allowed to state whether or not their account will or will not live on after their death.
However, Facebook is the only social media platform that has instituted this development; LinkedIn and Twitter have not yet gotten around to the realm of digital estate planning. If you happen to be active on all of these platforms, it is a good idea to state your intentions with these accounts and what your wishes happen to be regarding their administration (or dissolution) upon your death. It is wise to provide login credentials and any other administrative information so that your heirs know exactly what they should do in your stead.
Finances and Your Digital Life
There are also some challenges created when a person’s digital life is entangled with their personal finances. There are many apps that make automatic deposits as well as withdrawals from a user’s bank account, investment accounts, and credit card accounts.
Moreover, because transactions associated with these apps are usually small, it can be tricky to uncover their existence or determine their cause without an estate’s administrator first having knowledge of what is going on with a decedent’s smartphone.
Additional challenges are present when a decedent is active in an online community, such as eBay or another online auction site. For instance, if a person happens to be active on these platforms prior to their passing, there could be items or property that must be sold and transferred to another party when an auction closes. In this regard, it is very necessary for a person to be thorough about their activities online and make sure another party is aware of what might need to be dealt with after they pass away.
The Real Market Value of Digital Assets
Whether its the dollar value of an online character or Bitcoins that can only be used digitally, it is clear that there is actual dollars associated with digital assets that would pass to your beneficiaries. Understanding and planning for these assets at the same time that your more traditional assets are being planned for is the smart things to do. I can’t imagine that in the future our reliance on such assets will be less that it is now and in fact it is likely to be much greater. Therefore understanding and putting together a plan to deal with such assets will allow you make provision for these assets in a timely and reasonable manner.
Accounting for Digital Lives
Estate planning process has always been a task that is typically very involved—and this is a reality that is even truer in today’s digital world. As you begin the process of outlining or updating your digital estate plans, make sure you consider what your online footprint looks like when managing your digital assets and making your final wishes known to your heirs. The assets that you have created in the online world need to have a secure place in the future—or you risk allowing them to float the Internet for eternity without benefitting your loved ones.