As our society ages, there is naturally a rising concern over the physical, emotional, and financial security of our family members. With changes in technology, we are now conducting more business and financial management digitally. As a result, you should consider how you would protect your digital assets in your estate plan. Who will have access? How and where will you store your online passwords? These are vital questions to address as part of your estate plan.
Before providing a loved one or caretaker with the right to use or view your digital assets, it’s imperative to understand what a digital asset is, consider password storage strategies, and develop a plan so that those you designate can obtain access at your incapacity or death.
Understanding What a Digital Asset is
Digital assets are those intangible assets that you keep in a non-tangible form. Examples may include photos and videos you make, or all of the email correspondence that exists in your email account. These assets may reside online (such as your Facebook page), on a disk, or on a drive that you have, which is not actually stored online. A good example is a bank statement. In that instance, the digital asset is the communication that you have with the bank that contains the statement (usually in pdf format), but the underlying asset is still a separate digital asset. Keep a comprehensive inventory of your digital assets to ensure a smoother estate planning process.
Storing Your Online Passwords
Consider choosing a password storage service. This enables someone to provide their fiduciaries and other trusted representatives with access to all passwords in one place. Other examples include password security apps where you can save all of your other passwords on the app with one master password to access it. Lastly, for those who are less technology savvy, it is always a good idea to keep a hard copy as a backup option. Many people choose to store a hard copy in their safe deposit box, which is effective provided that your fiduciary knows where your safety deposit box is and has a key to it. Whether stored on-line or in a hard copy, all passwords should be kept up to date.
Obtaining Access to Assets
We often fail to read the fine print when agreeing to the terms of an online service. Make sure you read and understand the terms of service of each online application you use. For example, Google posts its policy online with instructions on how to access the Gmail account of a person who has passed away, provided that you are the executor of an estate or a similarly authorized representative. It is critical to determine, in advance, to develop an action plan and identify who should have access to your passwords and digital assets if you are no longer able to manage your own affairs.
Our firm has represented individuals, executors, trustees, investors, shareholders, and financial institutions in complex fiduciary disputes involving wills, estates, trusts, guardianships, businesses, and securities. If a family member, trusted advisor, executor, or administrator is engaging in misconduct by using online passwords or digital assets, we might be able to help. Schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.