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How To Secure Your Digital Legacy and Estate Plan, Part II

Last update on: Jun 17 2020

In last week’s edition of Retirement Watch Weekly, I detailed steps to secure your digital legacy (see Part I here). Today, we’ll return to this discussion…

Bottom line: To make your estate plan complete, you’ll want to compile an inventory of all your digital accounts and assets.

The inventory should include the name of the asset or service, the website address, app, or other means used to access it, and the password and username or other access information.

If you completed security questions or provided other information that could also be used to identify an authorized user, be sure to include the questions and answers in the inventory.

Don’t forget to include digital liabilities in the inventory.

These are automatic payment plans, automatic renewal programs and other arrangements under which your bank account or credit card is automatically charged on a regular basis.

The inventory is vital.

Without it, the fiduciary has to search through your records to discover what your digital inventory is and how to access everything.

If that information isn’t apparent from your records, a digital asset or liability might not be located.

Next, you need to authorize access to the accounts.

The access authorization should be included in your power of attorney, so that your agent or agents can manage the accounts in case you become disabled.

Of course, you can designate different people to access different types of accounts.

It is not unusual for a surviving spouse to be unable to pay bills because of a lack of basic information, such as where the accounts are, what their numbers are, etc.

Authorizations also should be clear in your will and any trusts you have.

You should be broad in defining the types of assets to which access is authorized, because the definition of digital assets is fluid.

You also should check the rights you have in certain digital assets.

For example, if you downloaded digital books, music, movies and other products from an online seller, you generally don’t own the books and don’t have the right to designate heirs to inherit them.

You only purchased a license to use them during your lifetime and sometimes for a shorter period.

Check the user agreements for details.

Remember, you don’t have to authorize the same person access to all your different digital assets.

As part of your estate plan, you might want your trustee or executor to manage financial accounts along with your tangible estate.

But you might want a different person or persons managing emails, photos, social media and other more personal assets.

In states that haven’t enacted FADA or a similar law, many issues still are up in the air.

You still should take the steps outlined above.

However, some commentators say a person violates federal anti-hacking law by accessing a deceased person’s digital assets, even when permission is provided in a will or other document.

Also, digital service providers can ignore a document and rely on their own policies or attorneys’ advice.

We’ll have more on this topic in future issues of Retirement Watch Weekly.

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