You have probably given estate planning a lot of thought. You might have created a will or living trust. Perhaps you’ve made an inventory of your possessions and outlined your accounts. But have you considered what happens to your digital life after you’ve passed?
The value of planning ahead in the digital world
Most everyone today maintains some form of digital assets. These can include electronic devices, email accounts, cloud storage, digital payment systems, social media accounts, online rewards programs, digital photos, music and video accounts, online betting accounts and virtual currency.
Some digital assets are treated as your personal property and are transferable under your will, while other accounts such as PayPal, Amazon, Twitter, iCloud, and Venmo are often only licenses to use a particular service, meaning you cannot transfer them under a traditional estate plan because you do not own them.1
If you haven’t included your digital accounts and assets in your estate planning, your digital life will outlive you, which could cause your family problems for weeks, months and even years.
Although your loved ones wouldn’t be liable for any of your legitimate debts, including “digital liabilities” like automatic payments, they would have to spend considerable time straightening them out. One of the worst issues they might have to deal with is something that could also stain your reputation: identity theft.
Safeguard against identity theft
Identity theft is called “ghosting” because it frequently takes up to six months for the defrauded institutions to discover the crime or the identity thieves who committed it. In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received about 1.1 million reports of identity theft.2 The top identity theft fraud types are credit card, bank, loan or lease, employment or tax, phone or utilities, according to the FTC.2
In addition, identity thieves can prevent your beneficiaries from receiving their full inheritance. Criminals have used the identities of recently deceased people to fraudulently gain access to their tax refunds.
How will your loved ones access your digital accounts?
We are all likely to have dozens of digital accounts. If your family or executor doesn’t know your passwords or other information to get into your accounts, they will have a difficult time retrieving valuable assets from them or closing them.
There are steps — typically found on each of the account’s help pages — your family could take to get into accounts such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and the major U.S. wireless companies. But with the large number of digital accounts that you probably have, it’s important to come up with a more comprehensive approach for their benefit.
Create a digital legacy plan
A digital legacy plan is a will, or instruction manual, for your digital assets. In order to make one, follow these steps:
- Make a digital asset inventory of all your accounts – including user names, password, etc.
- If you have digital assets, assign their beneficiaries and add their names to your will or living trust.
- List the people you want to oversee handling your digital accounts and provide legal consent — some might contain sensitive or private information meant to be seen only by a person of your choosing. Include that information in your will, living trust or power of attorney document. (Not even the executor of your will has access to many of these accounts without express permission in a legal document.)3
- Make sure your list is secured in a safe place and that the necessary people know where it is. If you have an estate attorney, give them a copy.
- Consider using a password manager to store your passwords and log in to sites easily. Password managers are programs that allow you to store, create, and manage your passwords. They can be easy to use and protected by strong encryptions.
- Consider instead putting your passwords along with all the information you’ve collected about your digital accounts and assets into a digital vault. A digital vault is a secure online platform where you can store your passwords and all your login information for your online accounts, along with other essential data and documents. It’s similar to having a safe deposit box; only this vault lives in the cloud.
Some companies’ services include offerings that range from support connected with your estate plans to closing your digital accounts after you pass.
Act today and help protect tomorrow
However you choose to create a digital legacy plan, organizing your digital files and accounts will help you navigate the ever-changing online world now and for many years to come. Get started today and read on for more tips about estate planning.