Estate Planning for Your Digital Assets

11:30 am Estate Planning

Do you have an e-mail account?

Do you participate in Facebook or other Social Networking sites?

Do you do any of your banking, bill paying or investing online? 

We live in a digital world. With every year that passes, more and more of our lives are moving into the digital realm. This includes friendships, networking, business and banking. Many people would now consider their Facebook password to be just as secret and sensitive as a credit card or social security number.

We all know the convenience of living so much of our lives online — in fact, some in the younger generation can’t remember living any other way. The age of the internet, the iPad and the cell phone means that we have unprecedented freedom and global access; it also means, however, that huge portions of our lives are locked away behind password protected accounts, many of which our friends and relatives aren’t even aware. Online accounts are incredibly convenient, but they can create huge problems if your executor or agent has no way to retrieve your online passwords, assets or contacts after you die.

Estate planners are not blind to this development. They understand that family heirlooms and records aren’t what they used to be. Nowadays everything from photos and music to financial statements and tax documents are increasingly likely to be created, stored or accessed via computers, mobile phones or other devices. Unfortunately, while people understand how important digital assets are, very few of them plan for those assets.

Some large online service providers are developing policies to deal with the transfer of accounts upon the death of the user, but the process is rarely a simple one. Some companies require a death certificate before they will agree to shut down an account or turn over the contents, but rarely will an online company transfer actual ownership. It could take months or years of headaches and frustration before your heirs have access to any assets or information locked behind these online protections.

What this means as far as estate planning and asset protection is that when you talk to your attorney or financial planner about protecting your assets, it’s not just about physical assets anymore; digital and online accounts and assets must be part of the conversation.

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