Almost everyone has some form of digital assets these days, but most do not have anything in their estate plan regarding how they want them handled. A 2011 survey by McAfee found that Americans valued their digital assets at more than $54,000. Digital assets include photos, emails and digital records such as financial statements or tax returns, along with anything else you store online. In addition to these common assets, digital purchases for eBooks, music and movies would also be included, along with the relatively new cryptocurrencies.
Terms of service agreements and access
One of the issues with digital assets is that in many cases the assets cannot be transferred according to the terms of service agreement the original account owner accepted. For example, an iTunes account could have thousands of songs and movies purchases, but the purchases belong only to the original user and cannot be transferred. Providing your username and password to your heirs in your estate is a violation of the iTunes terms of service.
This can be especially cumbersome when dealing with email accounts. If for example, all of your financial records such as financial or medical statements went to your email account that no one can access, the executor of your estate would have difficult time accessing financial information to begin closing out your estate.
Also, if your online accounts are tied to a bank or credit card, such as Amazon or PayPal, the accounts could get hacked without anyone knowing.
One of the main features of cryptocurrencies is their anonymity, so including them in your estate lets your heirs know they exist. Because the securities in place for cryptocurrencies are so strict, you need a firm plan for passing on your digital currencies to your heirs. Simply writing down your account information and password will probably not be enough. If the cryptocurrencies are stored in a digital wallet app or in cold storage, your heirs would need the private key in order to access the funds.
A plan for passing assets on
Here are some of the steps you can take to ensure your digital assets are made available to your heirs.
- Create an inventory of your digital assets with logins and passwords for each website. The list should be current and stored in a secure location.
- Use a password manager. A password manager can store all your passwords and you can share the master login information with the executor.
- Consider using an online vault. Online vaults such as Dropbox or Sharefile can be used to store your financial information. If your executor had access they would have information needed to close out your estate.
- Have a plan. Include a plan for your digital assets in your estate planning documents. You can have a broad plan that encompasses everything or a detailed plan for each account.
- Pick your executor carefully and then consider exactly what you want them to have access to. Also, when choosing your executor make sure they have some tech savvy. A person who never set up an email and doesn't own a computer may not be a good choice for handling digital assets.
Including digital assets in your estate planning process ensures your heirs know about and can access whatever assets you would like to pass on.