In this growing age of technology, one’s digital assets should be included or at least considered when creating an estate plan. When we prepare an estate plan for a client, we ask them to list all of their assets so that we can discuss how they want each asset to be distributed or handled upon their death. Often the client will inadvertently leave out their digital assets, usually because they do not consider them as assets that require any administration upon their death or that will transfer to their designated beneficiaries.
What Are Your Digital Assets?
This question may appear simple at first, but when you take the time to think about and even write down a list of your digital assets and accounts that will need to be addressed upon your death, the list is much longer than you initially thought. Just an example of some of the digital assets and accounts to consider are as follows:
- Computing hardware, such as computers, external hard drives or flash drives, tablets, smartphones, digital music players, e-readers, digital cameras, and other digital devices;
- Any information or data that is stored electronically, whether stored online, in the cloud, or on a physical device;
- Any online accounts, such as email and communications accounts, social media accounts, shopping accounts, online auto-pay accounts, photo- and video-sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you may manage;
- Domain names; and
- Intellectual property, including copyrighted materials, trademarks, and any code you may have written and own.
Each of these assets will need to be dealt with by the administrator of your estate upon your death. Planning ahead and providing your administrator with complete and specific instructions for handling the assets will ensure that your wishes are honored and provide ease of administration for your administrator.
Planning For Your Digital Assets?
Many service providers have online tools or mechanisms for the user to dictate his or her post-death wishes. For example, Google has an “inactive account manager” that allows the account owner to dictate what happens upon the death of the user. Absent any specific instructions you have left with the service provider, any instructions left in a will or trust must be followed by the service providers. Further, absent any specific instructions left with the service provider, or instructions in a will or trust, in most instances the service agreement will control. This is typically the agreement that the user clicked “yes” on without reading when setting up the account. This agreement may control with respect to some administrative requirements, but you can ensure that any asset with monetary value is distributed pursuant to your requests with proper planning and designation.
The best way to plan for your digital assets is to follow these steps:
1. Create an inventory – list of all of your digital assets and accounts.
2. Use a password manager or prepare a list of all your account passwords and keep it with your estate plan so your administrator can easily find it and access your accounts upon your death.
3. Discuss your digital assets and accounts with your attorney when preparing your estate plan to ensure that your will and/or trust includes and addresses the administration and distribution of your digital assets as well.
There are on-line resources that can help you keep all of your passwords and account information in one place, which is a good place to start. You will also need to ensure that your distribution requests are in writing by creating a thorough estate plan that includes your digital assets. There is specific language that can capture all your digital assets and also give service providers the intent needed to allow your administrator access to the accounts where necessary.
For more information about this or any other estate planning issues, contact Darcie Colihan in LGC’s San Diego office.