Protecting Your Digital Assets After Your Death
Although people started creating wills and thinking about post mortem asset distribution thousands of years ago, some aspects of estate planning are a great deal more current. While people have always been able to imagine and prepare for babies not yet conceived, anticipated marriages or unexpected deaths, it has not been possible to predict to plan for laws that change drastically and social norms that take a sharp turn in the future. Less than two centuries ago, for example, same-sex marriage was as unthinkable, as unthinkable as the undeniable fact that it was once legal to “own” people in this country.
Fifty years ago computers were not on the majority of desks or laps in this country and no one was yet storing important confidential financial and personal information in cyberspace.
For this reason, it is only very recently that estate planning has come to include making arrangements for protecting digital assets as well as other property. These days, when we consult with a savvy estate planning attorney she/he guides us to protect our digital assets as carefully as all other parts of our estates.
What are digital assets?
Digital assets aren’t physical entities like structures or land or even cash or stocks. They are any text or media formatted into a binary source which you have the legal right to use. They are categorized into media assets and textual content and include:
- Audiovisual media
- Word documents
- Electronic mail
The average American, usually without being aware of it, possesses $55,000 worth of digital assets stored on the web or in the cloud, and commonly has up to 100 accounts online. This means that you, or anyone armed with your username and password, can access information and accounts of value without leaving home or office.
How a Knowledgeable Estate Planning Attorney Can Help You Protect Your Digital Assets
As with other estate planning issues, it is essential to have an experienced estate planning and asset protection attorney guide you through the process of avoiding such difficulties. Once you meet with a well-respected estate planning attorney, she/he will assist you in taking the following steps:
- Establishing a sound method for keeping track of your accounts, usernames and passwords
- Setting up an external hard drive for backup storage of your data
- Using a password manager service that will create a secure master password to provide access to all of your other passwords for all of your accounts and documents
- Creating a legal document that informs appropriate family members of the arrangements you have made and of your specific wishes as to how they will be carried out.
Because digital assets are a relatively new part of our estates, many people have not considered the potential negative consequences of either leaving them unprotected or passing them on when they become incapacitated or die. Digital assets are often not included in end-of-life documents like wills. Apart from making fraud easier to commit, unprotected digital assets may cause endless hassles for family members trying to tie up your estate. Without the necessary information, heirs will be unable to access your accounts or even close them, leaving an undesirable phantom presence of you on social media after your death.