Estate Planning For The Digital World

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What happens to your Facebook account when you die? Or, your beloved iTunes music library? Your estate plan provides for the management and distribution of your physical goods, but should it include provisions for digital assets? Absolutely!

Thoughts like these may be a tad morbid, but they're legitimate concerns in today’s ever-changing digital world. Your digital assets are an important part of your estate. After your demise, they need to be managed, archived, transferred, or... deleted!

What's a Digital Asset?

Indiana law defines a digital asset as "an electronic record in which an individual has a right or interest." Electronic records cover a lot of assets - from your online accounts (social media, bank accounts, blogs, retail accounts) to information stored online or in a cloud such as your iTunes library, photos and digital books. Digital assets also includes your electronic devices, such as a smartphone, laptop, and tablet.

According to Intel Security, the average person has 27 different logins for their online accounts. That's mind-boggling! And every one of them needs to be managed after your death. For example, leaving online accounts connected to your banking information isn't a smart move. Your accounts could be hacked. How would you like someone enjoying a shopping spree at the expense of your beneficiaries!

State of Indiana Digital Asset Legislation

So how can you ensure that your digital assets will be managed according to your wishes? Currently, there is no federal legislation on digital assets and estate planning. You’ll need to look for guidance at the state level. According to the Uniform Law Commission, 22 states, including Indiana, have enacted legislation surrounding fiduciary access to digital assets.

The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act permits executors, trustees or a court-appointed individual to legally access a deceased individual’s digital property. In addition, these individuals can also manage or terminate online accounts. That’s good news for Indiana residents!

Taking Inventory

To do his/her job, your executor will need to know what digital assets you have a right or interest in, how to access them and what you want done with them. One of the first steps you’ll need to take to incorporate your digital assets in your estate plan is to create a comprehensive list of all accounts, stored information, and digital devices you have in your possession. You'll also need to include usernames, passwords, and security questions for these assets. Considering how often we change our passwords and add new accounts, keeping this comprehensive list up-to-date won't be an easy task. But it’s a crucial one.

Once you've completed your list, where’s the best place to store it? Many online storage services, which allow you to store all username and passwords in an online "locked box," have recently become available. Enter one password and you or your executor gains access to the list with all the usernames and passwords. Simple, yes?

But here’s where it gets tricky. There’s always the risk your digital locked box will get hacked, or the company itself might not be reputable or may lack top-notch security. Traditional options such as a safe deposit box at a financial institution, your personal safe, or a simple memory stick may be a better. You might also consider leaving the information with your estate-planning attorney. It would be safe; however, considering how frequently you add or change information, this option may be the most inconvenient.

One last tip: Don't store your inventory list on a computer or other electronic device that's included on your digital asset inventory. Your executor will need the list to log into the device, but he/she can't access that list if it's on your computer!

Naming Your Digital Executor

When it comes to naming a digital executor or personal representative in your last will and testament, make sure to choose someone you trust with all that personal information.

Once that person has agreed, tell him/her the location of your digital asset inventory list along with how you want your digital assets to be handled when you’re gone. Do you want your social media pages deleted? Who do you want to receive your $1,000 iTunes and $3,000 iBooks library? Don’t leave decisions like that for others to decide.

Summary

In today’s digital world, it’s crucial to plan for your electronic assets, no matter what your age. At the very least, consider how you’d like any digital assets of value to be handled and write down your wishes. If you have any questions about how to proceed, contact your financial planner or estate planning attorney.

Abby VanDerHeyden, CFP, is a Financial Planner with Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. For more information, visit their website at www.bedelfinancial.com or email Abby at avanderheyden@bedelfinancial.com.

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