If you think you don’t need to concern yourself with digital asset estate planning, think again. It’s nearly impossible to find anyone today who doesn’t have some sort of digital footprint. For example, at least 70% of Americans have social media accounts and many of those accounts have become virtual repositories for family photos, videos, and other memories.
On the business front, over 70% of small businesses have websites, which do everything from collecting customer data, to setting appointments, to processing orders—things that are crucial to ongoing business operations.
While these accounts and websites are relatively easy to create, few people stop to think about what happens to those assets when they pass away. Until recently, digital asset estate planning was a relatively unknown concept. Many executors, inheritors, and loved ones have found themselves in the dark when the asset owners died.
Fortunately, there are new solutions available that tackle this issue head on. Before we introduce you to those, though, let’s first explore the different types of digital assets you’ll want to include in your digital assets estate plan. Chances are, there are more than you think.
Before you can begin working on your digital asset estate plan, it’s important to identify all of the assets you have control over via the internet. Here are some of the top categories, which include both valuable assets (e.g., money-making or investment accounts) and emotional assets (e.g., social media and email accounts). When you meet with your estate planning attorneys, you’ll want to talk about both of these asset types and make sure they’re included in your estate plan.
- Investment Accounts: Many people have simple investing apps on their phones or desktops, in addition to more traditional investment accounts like 401Ks.
- Creative Works: Individuals often self-publish books through sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Other people sell art or videos via platforms like Patreon. These sites are not informed when the creator passes away, so they could continue to generate revenue posthumously.
- Cryptocurrency: Digital or virtual currencies, called cryptocurrencies, are gaining in popularity. Like investments, they have a current value in addition to a growth potential.
- Websites: Websites may generate revenue by virtue of sales or subscriptions that continue to accrue after the creator’s death. They may also generate valuable business leads.
- Online Ad Revenues: Anyone with a website or large social media following can place online ads through providers like Google Ads that, in some circumstances, can yield significant revenues.
- Social Media Accounts: Personal social media accounts are like the modern day scrapbook/photo album. When you pass away, loved ones may want access to the memories you’ve shared.
- Genealogy Websites: People spend years piecing together family histories on sites like Ancestry.com. Your loved ones will most certainly want to inherit the benefits of your work.
- Email Accounts: Individuals that use free email accounts like Gmail or Yahoo are likely the only administrator on the account, and those accounts will continue to collect correspondence after their death.
- Other Online Accounts: Today, most bills (utilities, credit cards, etc.) are paid via online accounts. These accounts will also need to be taken care of when you die.
In addition to the value—both monetary and sentimental—these assets carry, there may also be responsibilities attached to them. Websites, for example, will need to have the domain registry renewed from time to time. Sites like Ancestry.com have monthly fees associated with them. These sorts of obligations should also be discussed with your digital estate planner.
Ideally, digital estate planning is a two-step process. First, you contact an estate planning attorney who is familiar with digital asset planning. Next, your estate attorney will facilitate a partnership with a digital assets estate planning service like Directive Communications Systems (“DCS”).
Together, you’ll prepare an estate strategy that includes all of your digital account preferences upon your death. For example, you’ll decide whether accounts will be canceled, transferred, or renewed. Meanwhile, all of your account information (passwords, subscription renewal dates, etc.) will be maintained in strict privacy. When you die, DCS will administer all of the tasks you’ve pre-planned and your estate (and inheritors) won’t be burdened with trying to decipher and administer your digital footprint.
Not all estate planning firms are set up to handle digital asset estate planning. If you would like to get started with this process, make sure you choose an attorney who can walk the walk. Kierman Law would love the opportunity to discuss how we can make digital asset planning part of your overall estate planning strategy. Contact us today for more information.