What you should know about digital estate planning

It is important to consider your digital assets during the estate planning process.

When most people think about their asset protection and bequest goals as related to estate planning, they consider tangible items like their home and vehicle, collectibles, family heirlooms, pets, personal belongings and artwork. They may also think about such things as bank accounts, stock portfolios and other investments. What many of us don't realize, however, is the role that our digital lives play nowadays, and the importance of also planning for the dispensation of those assets when we are gone.

What are digital assets?

Simply put, digital assets can be anything - whether it holds monetary value or not - that is electronic in nature. This includes a wide variety of online-based accounts, memberships, partnerships, lists and interests, including:

  • Social media accounts (whether personal or business-related) for such sites as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram
  • Email
  • Instant messaging/video accounts
  • Online meeting portfolios
  • Digital banking accounts (many banks nowadays are wholly Internet-based and don't have physical branches where your loved ones could go to access your accounts should you become disabled or after you pass away)
  • Websites (personal and business)
  • Blogs (personal and business)
  • Client information lists (including names, email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, etc.)

Why do we need to worry about digital assets?

Many digital assets don't have a monetary value. The email address you've had since college, for example, likely holds no value to anyone but you. It could, however, be storing photographs or reminisces of you over the years that your loved ones would find comfort in after you're gone. Your loved ones may have difficult accessing the account without proper credential information, and their doing so without authorization could violate the terms of service of the account, which could result in a loss of data. Planning ahead to transfer ownership of that account will protect your memories.

The same holds true for social media accounts. You may have a Facebook or Twitter account where you've shared pictures and personal thoughts for years. Do you want that account to remain open as a memorial after you pass, or should it be closed immediately? These may not seem like pressing questions in the midst of the other estate planning concerns you may have, but they are still important.

Digital assets that hold funds, provide income or support your business in particular must be accounted for in your estate plan. Online bank or investment accounts (or your online payment accounts for retailers like PayPal or BitCoin), "stores" for such companies as EBay, Amazon or Etsy, and company websites and blogs that you administer can all represent assets and property that should go to your heirs. That is why it is important that these things be discussed as part of your estate plan. It might be nearly impossible to even locate some of these assets if they are wholly digital in nature, and then transferring ownership/access of them can be equally difficult if not done ahead of time.

When getting started on your estate plan - something it is never too early to think about - don't neglect your digital assets, particularly now that these types of accounts have become a much bigger part of our day-to-day lives. To learn more about estate planning in the digital age, and what type of estate planning tools are best suited for your unique financial situation, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney like those at the Cleveland office of Solomon, Steiner and Peck, Ltd., Attorneys at Law. You can contact the firm online or by calling 216-245-0185 or 866-642-0932.