Digital Asset Series Part IV: Estate Planning for Digital Assets

Welcome to Part IV of our series on digital assets. The previous blogs have explained what constitutes a digital asset and discussed some of the most common types. Our final article in this series focuses on options and suggestions for incorporating digital assets into your estate plan. Since there is no standard policy to plan for digital asset succession after death, each asset should be examined on an individual basis to determine the proper legal method required to control its disposition.

  1. The most important suggestion is to research whether there is already an existing policy concerning your digital asset. Many Internet service providers, like Google and Facebook, already have policies in place for handling the accounts of a deceased individual. These policies would overrule any individual wishes to the contrary.
  2. Additionally, I recommend backing up your digital assets to some form of tangible media, like a hard drive or CD. This enables you to manually pass down these assets, and access, without having to resort to Internet processes. It is important to remember to update this information as often as necessary to maintain accurate records. This will protect family photos, genealogical records and similar records or files.
  3. It is important to compile a comprehensive list of all your digital assets, also known as a digital asset inventory, to ensure that no asset is overlooked. This inventory provides space to list each asset, username, password and other information necessary for identification and access. You may also want to provide this information to your executor upon your death, expressly grant access in a power of attorney or store this information in a digital password wallet to ensure ease of access. However, some state and federal laws may prevent such sharing of access, so it is important to scrutinize a service provider’s policy prior to granting such access.
  4. Another option is to provide immediate access to your digital assets to a trusted individual(s). For example, you could set up an account online to allow your family to view your photographs without waiting for someone to access and sort them after your death.
  5. In some cases it is possible to place your digital assets in a trust or place such information in a will. By placing these assets in a trust, the information is kept private, you can provide specific maintenance instructions to a trustee and it many cases would provide seamless transition of ownership. A will is less pragmatic for digital assets that change often and would require a constant updates and is not suitable for passwords.
  6. Finally, some individuals choose to hire an online company like Legacy Locker to maintain their digital assets and make that information available the designated person upon their death. These companies are new and it is uncertain what type of longevity they will have but it is an option to consider.

These are some basic suggestions for incorporating your digital assets into your estate plan. Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to help you create a customized comprehensive estate plan that fits your life.