These days, with everything from email to banking accounts to home utilities available online, it can feel like the world is literally at your fingertips. People often gravitate towards online accounts for their accessibility and convenience. However, many individuals often fail to account for their online assets in their estate plans, leaving their heirs unable to access and benefit from them. It is crucial for those who are looking to create an estate plan for the first time to specify any digital assets they own and how to access them within the estate planning documents. For those with an existing estate plan, it is essential that the estate plan is updated regularly as new digital assets are acquired.
Below are some key takeaways to help ensure that your estate plan is digital-savvy:
Define Your Digital Assets
First and foremost, it is essential to determine what digital assets you own and how to access them. Individuals often benefit from making a detailed list that includes a person’s digital property with and without financial value and digital property relating to their businesses.
A person’s digital property without financial value may include, but is not limited to:
- Online accounts (websites, blogs, or email, social media, shopping, and gaming accounts)
- Electronically stored data (Google Drive, Cloud)
A person’s digital property with financial value may include, but is not limited to:
- Computing hardware (computers, equipment, external hard drive or flash drive, tablets, smartphones, e-reader, digital music players and cameras)
- Financial accounts (bank accounts, credit accounts, Venmo, PayPal, rewards programs)
- Domain names
- Websites or blogs that generate revenue
- Intellectual property (copyrights, trademarks, written code)
- Other digital property that produces revenue (art, photos, e-books, etc.)
Digital property relating to a business may include, but is not limited to:
- A business’ website, blog, or app
- Online store (Amazon, Esty, eBay)
- Client information
- Databases (mailing lists, newsletter subscriber lists, email lists)
- Any other digital property owned by the business
Location and Accessibility of Digital Assets
Once an individual has compiled an inventory of his or her digital assets, it is important to detail where and how to access the properties. For online accounts, it is recommended to list the URL and login and password information. For hardware, the testator should detail where the asset is located within the home or business and if there are passwords to access it.
State How You Want Your Digital Assets to Be Handled
Within an individual’s Last Will and Testament, he or she should not only define the digital assets they possess but also establish how each asset should be handled. Depending on the nature of the properties, an individual may want some assets saved, deleted, or transferred to loved ones or business colleagues.
For digital assets that relate to a business, the testator, or creator of the Will, should speak with an attorney regarding their designation and whether or not it may conflict with the organization’s terms of service.
For digital properties with financial value, the testator should define how and to whom the assets should be distributed. It is important to consider revenue generating properties and whether or not they should be transferred to another party who will continue to manage them. In addition, if the revenue-generating assets continue to be managed, the testator should consider where the money will be distributed to and who will be able to access the funds after he or she has passed away.
Store Information Regarding Digital Assets in a Secure Location
In addition to defining and determining where digital assets will go should an individual pass away, it is important to store sensitive information regarding these properties in a secure location. An individual may choose to keep this information with his or her estate planning attorney or may opt to use an online storage service or keep it in a fireproof safe or locked cabinet. When the time comes, the information should be accessible to the estate administrator.
Digital assets like all other properties should be properly accounted for and their designations defined in a comprehensive estate plan. If you are looking to create an estate plan for the first time or are looking to update an existing plan, it is important to seek the guidance of an experienced New York estate planning lawyer. The attorneys at Blodnick Fazio & Clark are experienced estate planning lawyers who have advised clients on complex matters regarding estate planning, estate administration, and probate proceedings. To schedule a consultation with our Nassau County estate planning lawyers, call (516) 280-7105 or, for our Suffolk County estate planning lawyers, call (631) 669-6333.