What is it?
We typically define our assets as being cash, jewelry, cars, or a home. But the electronic conveniences that now fill our lives requires us to expand that definition to consider all those things we own and touch on a daily basis that rely on some type of electronic system to be created or maintained.
A sample list might include investment accounts, social media accounts, business agreements, retail accounts, flash drives, email accounts, investment documents, tax files, domain names and creative work product.
Therefore, if you haven’t thought about your digital estate, you need to learn more and start your list. Here are some thoughts for you to consider as you develop your digital estate list.
- While you know the access codes, user names and passwords for your digital assets, when the time comes to deal with them, your executor won’t, unless you somehow tell them.
Such digital access information would not be suitable to include in a will, which when filed of record becomes a public document. This necessary information needs to be recorded then either provided to someone of trust and confidence to hold, like your attorney, or placed in a private locked storage area, as a safe deposit box. Because the password information should be changing regularly, access for making changes is critical.
- Although a lot of digital assets are more socially oriented, some others might have a connection to a business or revenue source, and if mishandled could cause financial damage.
If digital assets, like domain names, trademarks or copyrighted materials, are owned by an individual, but used in a business, provision needs to be made for how those digital assets will be dealt with upon death. Are costs to maintain a business domain name personally owned and being paid for by personal credit card? Which card? If it were canceled would it no longer provide payment, subjecting the business domain name to being canceled? These and other similar questions need to be thought through.
- You might want some of your digital assets, primarily social accounts and particularly personal electronic journals, to be destroyed upon your death, not wanting personal thoughts and comments to be shared among family members.
This becomes a highly personal decision but unless you provide direction on how these things will be handled, information you have otherwise held closely could be unknowingly shared with the wrong people. These directions can become part of the information the executor uses to administer your estate and can be filed in the same location and with the same person used to store your digital access codes discussed above.
- Computer hardware, whatever type, needs to be dealt with, even old obsolete systems sitting in storage, because they probably hold personal or business data.
Is your computer used in a business operation that would suffer if the information on your computer was not available to the business? Do you have unpublished manuscripts, technical or other proprietary information on your computer that could have value? Do you store critical information, personal or business, on flash drives that no one knows about or where they are located? How do you want your computer hardware to be handled after your death? These are the types questions that need to be resolved in your digital estate planning.
Each state has specific laws for the administration of an estate. Depending on your state of residence, the information and instructions suggested might or might not be binding on an executor. That is for you and your attorney to discuss and decide upon. But, unless you provide the information related to your digital estate assets, regardless of legal requirement to follow them, your executor will not know your feelings and concerns, and will not be able to consider such in the administration of your estate.