Digital Estate Plan
Just the other day, a call came in that we all dread. A client recently passed away and his wife called to ask about what to do with her husband’s accounts. They had created a solid estate plan that would serve as a road map to settling their estate easily. She shared with us that while their estate plan was very clear on how accounts and assets were to be passed, what had become unclear was how to deal with his online accounts or “digital assets”. She tried to access her husband’s Facebook account where he shared many family photos and contacts, but did not have access to his username and password. She found out that the company’s policies prevented her from accessing her husband’s account without written consent. Frustrated, she moved on to his smart phone account and learned that she could not access this either. While she and her husband did a great job planning for their traditional assets, such as bank accounts, retirement and investment accounts, they had no idea about planning for their “digital assets.”
Times are changing and so should your estate plan. Have you ever thought about what happens to your Apple account and iPhone access when you pass? Facebook and Instagram accounts with years of personal contacts, posts and photo’s? How about that Shutterfly account with gigabytes of personal family photos? Think a spouse or loved one can just contact these companies and access your accounts? Think again!
It’s important to plan ahead for how to handle your online accounts after your death, as different service providers have different policies and processes for granting access to your loved ones. According to Avast1, here are some steps you can take to create a pre-death plan for how to handle your online accounts:
- Talk to your loved one about their online accounts and what they would want to happen to those accounts after they die.
- Make a list of all of the online accounts that your loved one has, including the username and password for each account. Do not include that information in a will, as wills become public when someone dies.
- Store the list in a safe place where it can be easily accessed by those who need it. You can use a password manager, a secure cloud service, or a physical lockbox.
- Designate a digital executor who will be responsible for managing your online accounts after your death. This can be the same person as your regular executor or someone else you trust.
- Check the terms of service and policies of each online service you use and see if they offer options for legacy contacts, inactive account managers, or account deletion requests. Follow their instructions to set up these preferences.
- Review your privacy settings and make sure that one trusted person knows your passwords and how to handle your accounts after your death2.
While this all may seem overwhelming, start small and begin the process now. Please visit our Atlas Wealth Strategies website/page (insert atlas link to digital) where you will find a resource guide designed to help you write down and capture all this information.