Will your estate executor have access to your digital estate? Do you know what is involved in a digital estate plan? It’s more than signing your paper will.
Is it enough to leave your email password on a notepad beside your computer?
Sorry, no. You need to learn more digital dos and don’ts.
Digital assets are various online or electronic files with your personal information. They include financial resources and social networks. Digital assets can include personal data with high emotional value. You could also have digital business property with monetary value. Digital assets can be stored electronically, online, in the cloud or on physical devices.
Passwords Can Control Access
Access to your online information or electronic storage is vital. Who should have access to your passwords?
When you make a will, you can appoint a digital executor. You can authorize your executor to hire experts to handle digital assets. You must, however, share passwords and login information to manage such assets.
Executors face a dilemma; in some cases, you may not have ownership of some digital property. Instead, only a non-transferrable access license may exist. Social media user agreements may only permit network access with a personal password. There is nothing to own or sell.
But executors have a duty to collect estate assets. Will they have to hunt for your passwords and usernames?
What about your material in the cloud, on social media or video sites? You can create a digital estate plan and specify your preferences. How is your executor to handle your digital accounts? Should files be closed, maintained or memorialized?
Estate trustees must be aware of their duties to secure devices with digital information. This includes cell phones, tablets, laptops and computers.
Documents, photos, videos, text messages can be personal or business materials. Executors may not be able to distinguish between these.
Digital assets may have emotional and personal connections for your survivors. This may not translate to monetary value to calculate probate or income tax. However, the loss or expiry of a business domain name or blog can affect online sales and value.
Customer subscription lists and shopping carts can be stored online for businesses. Trademarks, copyrights and creative work can be considered assets and intellectual property. What about the value of an unpublished manuscript or musical composition?
Your online financial accounts may automatically pay utilities, credit card bills, income taxes or loan payments. Your digital estate property can include:
- domain names
- online photos and music
- memorial websites
- shopping networks
- loyalty and reward programs
Credit card agreements may impose deadlines for the transfer of rewards or membership points.
Do Not Store Passwords in Wills
You need to store your digital information somewhere other than your will.
Once probated, your will and any password information become public. This could lead to fraud, cybercrime and identity theft.
Many online services store passwords and access codes. These may promise confidentiality. Their guarantees may be short-lived when such businesses fail. Also, digital laws will likely change and courts can order disclosure of such records.
Executors must be aware that online fees can continue to be charged and go undetected. Credit card payments or debt service accounts may have been set up for automatic payments. Without paper statements, executors may be unable to track them.
Digital worlds often have no paper trail to follow. User agreements may prohibit the transfer of passwords and access to anyone other than the registered user.
Can your executor answer your secret questions?
When asked, “What is your favourite bar beverage?” my answer is, “who’s buying?”
Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, and C.S.) is an Ontario lawyer, nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto-based Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law. Ed’s law firm website is MrWills.com © 2014