Digital Estate Planning: Protecting Your Online Assets
When individuals prepare their wills, they are often only thinking about their physical property (such as real estate, vehicles, jewelry, etc.) and financial accounts.
Digital estate planning is a fairly recent concept, and it is something that is frequently overlooked when people set up their estate plans. Digitized assets can be very valuable in some cases, however. But these assets do not leave a paper trail, and if they are not addressed ahead of time, they could be very difficult to deal with when someone dies or becomes incapacitated.
Even if you do not have a million Instagram followers or millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency, there is still a good chance that you have digital assets that you own, control, or license. But in order for your executor or power of attorney to even locate these assets, they will need logins, passwords, and instructions on how to access the accounts. To complicate matters further, many online providers have limits on what an executor can and cannot do with an online account that belongs to someone else.
Taking Inventory of Your Digital Property
Some digital assets hold significant financial value, while other assets have sentimental value for family members and friends. The first step to digital estate planning is to create a comprehensive list of all of your online assets. Here are some examples of digital assets that people commonly possess to help jog your memory:
- Websites. Just about any type of business these days requires a website. Your website is essentially your digital calling card, and in many cases, it is the source of a significant amount of your business. You might also have a website for personal use that is monetized in some way and generates income. Finally, just the domain names alone that are attached to the websites could be worth some money if they have been used to brand a popular product, for example.
- Blog content. Many people these days create regular blog posts. Your blog may be attached to your website, or you may be using an outside service such as Blogger. Some people write blogs for fun or as a hobby, while others monetize them.
- Online podcasts/video channels. Maybe writing is not your forte, but you like to create podcasts or videos. Some people make a good living podcasting and/or posting videos. For example, platforms like YouTube allow video producers to create their own channel in her a share of the revenue that their videos generate.
- Online gaming accounts. Do you do any sports betting or other types of gaming online? If so, you might keep funds in your gaming account, so you are ready to make a big bet if the opportunity arises.
- Social media accounts. Most people have at least one or two social media accounts. Facebook is still the most popular, but platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn have hundreds of millions of users as well. Your social media accounts might only be for fun and recreation, but the photos and videos on them would still be important for your loved ones to retrieve.
- Digital rights to creative works. If you are a writer, designer, artist, singer, filmmaker, or another creative type, you may have digital books, movies, music, visual designs, or similar online property that could have both monetary and sentimental value.
- Software. Maybe you are an IT person who writes code for various types of software and web applications (apps). Any software that you retain ownership of could hold some value, depending on whether or not it is sold to the general public.
- Cryptocurrency accounts. As we touched on earlier, cryptocurrency has created a lot of new millionaires. Maybe you are a crypto investor who has not reached that stage yet, but your accounts might still be worth a significant amount of money.
- Online-only financial accounts. Some traditional financial accounts such as savings and stock trading accounts do not have any type of paper receipts attached to them, they are web-only accounts. If you have financial accounts like these, the only way to access them will be online.
- Digital photos and videos. Many people have countless photos and videos stored online through some type of cloud service such as iCloud, Google Drive, or Amazon. These photos and videos may not be worth any money, but your loved ones will still want to have them for sentimental reasons.
Once you have listed all of your digital assets, create an inventory of these assets along with logins, passwords, and a letter of instruction on how to access your online accounts. However, do not put this sensitive information in your will, because your will becomes part of the public record after you die.
Keep all of your online information in a secure place, such as with your attorney, in a home safe, or in a safety deposit box at the bank. There are also online storage services such as LifeSite and Everplans where you can keep this information and give a trusted person access to it.
Work with a Reputable Virginia Estate Planning Attorney
The world of estate planning has had to evolve quickly during the past several years to keep up with the rapid digitization of our society. Today’s estate plans must address your online assets, or a significant portion of your property could be lost to the next generation. When you develop your estate plan, be sure to work with an attorney who is up to date on all of the changes in recent years.
For skilled guidance with estate plans in Virginia, Buck, Toscano & Terezkerz is here to help. To set up a consultation with one of our attorneys, message us online or call our office today at (434) 977-7977.