July 10, 2019
Erasing Your Digital Footprint Through Estate Planning
It is difficult to believe that anyone could pass away today and not leave a digital footprint. While some of us may have a slight imprint on the digital world, many of us have extremely large digital footprints. What happens to our digital presence when we die? It is a question that you should ask a Michigan estate planning lawyer when you are discussing your estate plan.
Why Do I Care About My Digital Footprint?
Most digital “assets” do not have monetary value. However, some digital assets do have value. Many accounts are maintained online without any hard copies, including bank accounts, retirement accounts, insurance policies, digital currency, investment accounts, and other financial accounts. If you do not have hard copies of your records and you do not receive anything in the mail, your family members may not know that you own these assets unless you include the assets in your will.
Of course, you do not want to list specific information about these assets in your will, such as logins and passwords. However, you do want to ensure that your personal representative is aware of these assets.
Other digital assets may not have a monetary value, but they could hold other value. For example, subscriptions to music services, video services, and audiobook accounts could have money in the account that could be refunded or used by heirs. Therefore, it is important that you account for all digital assets in your will.
Take Inventory of Your Digital Assets
Your digital assets include a variety of accounts. Begin by making a list of all online accounts and assets, including your logins and passwords for each account. You may also want to include the websites you use to access the accounts and the name and contact information for customer service departments, agents, or representatives who can assist your personal representative or other authorized fiduciary after your death.
Examples of digital assets include:
- Financial accounts, including bank accounts, investment accounts, brokerage accounts, PayPal accounts, etc.
- Digital currency, such as bitcoins
- Cloud accounts
- Email accounts
- Online shopping and bill pay accounts
- Freelance accounts, such as Crowd Content, Upwork, etc.
- Video and photo sharing accounts
- Social media accounts
- Other websites that store or maintain financial or personal information, including password management services, accounting services, and tax preparation services
Your list of digital assets should always be updated whenever you create, change, or delete an account. Maintaining the list in digital form can make changes quick and easy, but having a hard copy is also important. Digital and hard copies should be stored in a secure place that your personal representative or appointed fiduciary can access after your death. Your attorney can help you address the matter in your will.
Transferring Digital Assets and Providing Instructions for Erasing Your Digital Footprint
Digital assets that have value need to be included in your will. Some assets may have beneficiary designations. You should note those designations on your list to make it easier for your personal representative to identify those assets and notify the beneficiaries.
Other digital assets may need to be transferred to heirs. Your will needs to address these assets to avoid any confusion. Additionally, you must also read the terms and conditions for each account. Some platforms and companies dictate how funds are distributed upon your death in the user agreement.
Erasing your digital footprint can be a bit challenging. For each account, you need to read the user agreement to understand how the company or platform handles the account after death. For example, some platforms allow you to appoint individuals who can manage or delete your account, such as Facebook.
Other accounts may not include a legacy feature. For those accounts, you need to make provisions in your estate plan as to how you want those accounts treated. Do you want the account to remain open or deleted? Who do you want to handle this duty for you?
Because everyone has information they keep private, even from family members, you need to consider all factors when choosing how to handle your online accounts after your death.
Contact a Michigan Estate Planning Attorney to Discuss Your Digital Footprint
Including your digital assets and accounts in your estate plan can be challenging. Many questions need to be addressed. An experienced Michigan estate planning attorney can guide you through each issue and help you choose the option that is best for you.
Contact The Elder Care Firm of Christopher J. Berry, CELA by calling 888-390-4360 or by using the contact form on our website to request a consultation with a Michigan estate planning lawyer.