Estate planning in the digital age

Individuals of all ages should consider including their digital assets in their estate plan.

Take a moment to consider all of the assets you manage online. Do you keep track of your bank accounts on the Internet? What about your retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s? If you are like many Americans, your daily financial activity - along with many other aspects of your day-to-day life - is housed in various accounts online.

As valuable information is contained in these accounts, have you considered what will happen in the event of your passing? Despite the huge amount of information stored online - generally referred to as digital assets - most people fail to make any plans for these assets when creating an estate plan.

Document all of your digital assets

One of the first steps you can take in planning for your digital assets is to write them down in a comprehensive list. To ensure you do not forget certain assets, consider breaking them into categories, including:

  • Financial accounts
  • Insurance accounts, including life and health insurance
  • Email accounts
  • Social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Miscellaneous accounts

Financial accounts include not only bank accounts, but also retirement and other savings accounts, such as mutual funds. In addition, you will want to include information regarding loans and debt, such as your mortgage account and credit card information.

Other, miscellaneous accounts for which you may want to provide information include reward programs for airlines and hotels and other sites, such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and eBay.

Store login information in a separate document

While creating a comprehensive list is important, you do not want to include login information on the same list. Rather, you may wish to keep password information in a separate, written document or in a digital file to which the administrator of your estate has access. As most people occasionally update their passwords, ensure you simultaneously update your login information document.

Talk to an estate planning attorney

In addition to documenting the existence of your digital assets, you will also likely wish to provide some instructions regarding their management upon your passing. Rather than attempting to do so on your own, it is a good idea to enlist the services of a skilled estate planning lawyer. An attorney will help you identify the appropriate type of estate planning document - often a will or trust - to account for all of your assets, including those found online.

If you have not planned for the management of your digital assets in an estate plan, you should take the time to talk to an experienced estate planning attorney. A legal professional will ensure you have an appropriate plan for all of your online accounts and assets.

Keywords: estate plan, digital assets