Law News and Tips
Planning for Digital Assets
PLANNING FOR DIGITAL ASSETS
Fred L. Vilbig © 2018
As I’m writing this, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, is in the middle of testifying before Congress about a data breach of some sort. To be honest, I haven’t really been following all of the reports on this situation, so I won’t pretend to understand what all is involved in this. But I do know that Americans have surrendered a huge amount of privacy to digital businesses. One study found that even with your cell phone off, the GPS on your phone can still track almost everywhere you go. And people put all kinds of personal stuff on line, and it really isn’t private.
That started me thinking about estate planning for your digital assets. More and more of our financial information is on line. Most people buy things on line which requires using credit cards or debit cards. Some people pay bills on line. A lot of people do on-line banking. And then people have all kinds of social media accounts that may have private information or pictures on them.
The question is, what happens to all of that when you die? I’ve had widows and widowers who knew their deceased spouse’s username and password. They have continued to use the deceased spouse’s accounts for quite some time after their death, even investment accounts. I understand the practicality of that, but I don’t endorse it.
The problem arises when no one knows the decedent’s username and password (or whatever the access procedure calls for). There are lots of digital pirates sailing the virtual sea. It’s not uncommon for one of those pirates to commandeer a digital account, steal the information, and run up bills. Your estate in the end might not end up being liable for those, but it can create a real headache for your personal representative or trustee (your “fiduciary”).
So what’s a person to do? First, you need to pick a fiduciary who has some working knowledge of digital finance and social media. They need to be comfortable working in the digital world. You have to name them in your will or trust. It may be that you want to have one fiduciary to handle your regular assets and another to handle the digital assets. Your call.
Next (or maybe even simultaneously) you need to make a list of your digital accounts, the user name, and the password. If a particular digital account has some special access procedure, you need to include that information on your list. The problem with all of this is that I end up changing usernames and passwords fairly frequently. In particular, I forget passwords and have to change them. So this list needs to be fairly accessible.
There are apps you can use to store all of that information. I am not endorsing any of these, but the ones I have heard about are PasswordBox, PasswordSafe, and SecureSafe.There are many more. If you’re old fashioned (or tech-challenged) like me, then maybe having a paper list in a safe or a Word document on your computer can work too. Just make sure that your digital fiduciary knows how to access that information. I’ve put a sample table at the end of this blog if you want to use that.
And when you’re doing all of this, be sure to investigate the particular terms and conditions of the digital accounts. For instance, Facebook has a way of deleting digital information or notifying certain people you have designated if your account remains inactive too long. Google has something similar. Twitter is much more draconian: it requires, among other things, a death certificate, a government issued ID, and a signed statement from a personal representative (which may require that you open a probate estate).
So planning for digital assets does require work, but besides the basic will or trust, it is work that you have to do. If you have any questions, contact me.
DIGITAL ACCOUNT LIST
|Digital Account||Username||Password||Special Instructions|
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