Estate planning should be a component of any financial plan. The term generally refers to the distribution and management of one’s assets after a person passes away. While it may not be pleasant to think about your death, it’s an important exercise. You can create a lasting legacy and eliminate needless stress for your loved ones by developing a strategy. Estate plans usually include a will, trust and other planning documents.
Estate planning isn’t just for financial assets, though. You also may want to include guidance and instructions for your digital assets. For example, your email could contain important or sensitive information. Perhaps you have privacy concerns with your social media accounts. Maybe you have photos on a cloud server that would hold sentimental value for your family. You may even have online investment accounts or income streams that your loved ones may need to access.
While the world may have gone digital, much of estate planning law isn’t quite there yet. There aren’t many laws that govern how digital assets and accounts should be handled after someone passes away. While a will, trust and other tools are accepted as legal documents to manage financial assets, it’s unclear how these documents can be used with regard to digital accounts. Below are a few tips on how to navigate the digital afterlife:
Decide on your objectives for your accounts.
It’s always helpful to clarify your wishes and objectives before you take action. Start by listing your important accounts, such as email, social media, photo and file storage, and more. Then think about what should happen to each account after your death.
Would anyone need access to the account for any reason? Would your family need to search your emails or perhaps access a financial account? Are there any assets like photos or messages that hold sentimental value?
Privacy should also be a concern. Is there anything in your email or social media accounts that you wouldn’t want your family members to see? There may be certain information or communications that you don’t want to share with your children or other loved ones.
Research how various platforms handle inactive accounts.
Most digital companies have policies in place on how they handle accounts for deceased customers. Some are very strict and won’t allow access to anyone else without some kind of court order. Others will allow another person to access the account if it’s been inactive for a prolonged period. Some social media companies will keep your page up as a “remembrance page” with limited access to others.
Do some research to see how your primary account platforms operate after a user’s death. They may allow you to designate a backup person to take over your account or access certain information. If they don’t allow that option, you may need to consider alternative strategies.
Create written instructions for your heirs and loved ones.
Theoretically, you could include account management instructions, usernames and passwords in your will or other documents. That may not be a great idea, however, as those documents are often filed as public record. That means anyone could gain access to your accounts.
Instead, consider using a password management tool to store login info, and then simply have your estate executor provide that info to the appropriate person. You could also store a document with digital asset instructions along with your other important documents, such as your insurance policy, will and others.
Ready to review your estate planning strategy? Let’s talk about it. Contact us today at Retirement Peace Project. We can help you analyze your objectives and all your assets, and then develop a plan. Let’s connect soon and start the conversation.