In my last article, I wrote about Estate Planning 101. While it is important for one to have a Will, Trust, Living Will and/or Powers of Attorney for Property and Health Care, with the Digital Age that we live in, it is equally important for one to address one’s digital footprint and assets that he will leave behind after his death. When I mention one’s digital footprint and assets, I am referring to his personal computers, cell phones, tablets, email accounts, online banking accounts, web sites, online storage and sharing accounts such as Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter, etc. While these digital footprints and assets are so personal, after one’s death, accessing these accounts and/or removing these accounts after one’s passing is often troublesome. And, as I discussed in a previous article about identity theft of living individuals, identity theft of deceased persons’ information is also on the rise with more than 2.5 million deceased identities being abused annually. By taking action now, one can make the process for one’s loved ones of accessing these accounts and removing these accounts after his passing a little easier.
One should write down any usernames and passwords required to access one’s computers, cell phones and tablets and take an inventory of documents stored on these devices. Often, in the paperless age that we live in, people scan documents as PDFs and store these files on their computer. These documents may be important information such as bank account statements, investment account statements, insurance policies, retirement account statements, etc. An executor of a will or a trustee of a trust may need the usernames and passwords to these devices to access these documents if these documents are not available in an original or other hard copy in order to administer the estate.
One should also take an inventory of his digital assets by writing down all of his online accounts, usernames and passwords. Online accounts include email accounts, web site accounts, online bank accounts, online investment accounts, online social media accounts, online data storage accounts, online photo storage accounts, etc. Next, one should designate an individual to be a digital executor and should be explicit about what he wants to happen with his digital assets. One should not assume that his survivors automatically have the right to those digital assets. One can include specific bequest language in the body of his Will or include language incorporating by reference the existing inventory, leaving assets to specific heirs. The list of digital assets should NOT be attached to the Will, but only incorporated by reference in the Will noting its location because a Will is a public record.
If you have a Will or Trust but have not addressed how you want your digital assets addressed, you should contact your estate planning attorney to include plans for your digital property in your estate plan. Make sure your estate plan specifies your wishes about your property and appoints someone to act on your behalf with respect to all of your digital property, during incapacity and after death. This may be accomplished via a Power of Attorney, a Will, and a Revocable Trust. And, make sure that your estate planning documents explicitly authorize the companies that hold your electronic data to release that data to your fiduciaries during your incapacity and after your death.