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Approximately 55 percent of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place, according to LexisNexis. Since SaddleBrooke residents regularly get offers of free eats and presentations from estate planners, I’m guessing that nearly all of us have given estate planning more than a passing thought.
If you haven’t revisited your estate planning recently, you may not have considered what should be done with your digital assets. According to a recent survey, 63 percent of people don’t know what will happen to their digital assets when they die. A 2014 survey funded by McAfee found that the average digital device holds $35,000 worth of information by the owners estimate. The largest part of that value was attributed to irreplaceable personal memories, photos and videos. Over half of those surveyed felt their computers held information that is impossible to recreate, download or purchase again.
The average person has 25 password-protected accounts – email accounts, social media accounts, cloud storage accounts, financial accounts, streaming video services, online subscriptions, electronic storefronts, auction sites and more.
Multiple advisors list five steps to follow when creating a digital estate plan:
Step 1: Create and maintain an inventory of your digital assets with user names and passwords. Ideally, update this list every time any change is made.
Step 2: Store your inventory in a safe place. This may be a password manager, a password protected file on your computer, an encrypted on-line storage service (like LegacyLocker or SecureSafe) or a printed copy in a fireproof safe at home. Access to a safe deposit box may be delayed by probate requirements. Make sure someone you trust completely knows how to access this information.
Step 3: Research terms of service for email and social media accounts. Each of these will have documented terms of service that list specifications governing access to your account; you may have surprisingly limited options. Some states have legislation that may also apply. A model law (The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA)) is currently being adopted on a state-by-state basis.
Step 4: Provide instructions for managing your digital assets when you are gone. You may want your account to be deleted or the contents to be shared with others or the account to continue for a time. Your will or trust should already cover the administration of your financial and property interests, but you may want your documents to designate a digital executor who is both technologically skilled and trustworthy and to grant that executor a power of attorney authorizing access.
Step 5: Consider whether you want to post a parting message or memorial online. Automating a final email message or directing your digital executor to post a video or photo album online are examples of emerging practices.
Digital estate planning information and services abound online. The Digital Beyond (www.thedigitalbeyond.com) offers a comprehensive list of online planning services and pertinent news items. Everplans (www.everplans.com) is one of the earliest and most comprehensive digital estate planning services. A visit will provide a generous amount of free and thought provoking information.