As more aspects of people’s lives move online, managing numerous digital accounts becomes a complex process, and one that presents numerous challenges. These issues are not limited to just the account holders themselves. In fact, the real test may come after people pass away and their families are left to make sense of their digital assets.
What constitutes “digital assets” may vary from case to case, but in a broad sense the term can be applied to a variety of online content and accounts, as well as devices themselves. In other words, your computers, tablets, cell phones and Internet-equipped devices may all qualify. So does your email, social media content, accounts with online businesses and digital content, such as movies or photos you’ve posted or stored online.
One of the major challenges involved in protecting your digital assets after your death is all of those user agreements you’ve most likely clicked through and signed or accepted, often without reading. They actually place certain restrictions on your online content and records, including on how they may be used or accessed, and by whom. When these user agreements turn out to contradict federal or territorial laws, the process of dealing with your digital assets can quickly become quite complicated.
To help make the process of handling your digital assets substantially easier for your friends and family members, it’s helpful to include them as part of your estate planning process. As a way of getting started, you can make a list of all of your online accounts — basically anything that requires a user ID, password or other login information, including secret questions and answers — and put all of that information in a password-protected document or spreadsheet. Be sure to update the document any time you are required or otherwise compelled to change any of the information, or when you create a new account.
Once you’ve created this comprehensive list, you will want to document its existence, providing information on where to find it and how to access it. Work with an attorney to make sure you cover everything you need and that you remain in compliance with territorial and federal laws. You may wish to store this information at your attorney’s office or in a safety deposit box. Finally, in your will or in a statement drafted by your lawyer, you should authorize the disclosure of your account records to the executor of your estate.
In any matters related to estate planning, it’s best to consult with an experienced legal professional to ensure you’re covering all your bases, while also making the process of settling your estate substantially easier for your loved ones.
BoltNagi is a widely respected and well-established estate planning law firm serving families, businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.