Frankly, it’s just a plan for how your loved ones can keep watching Disney movies on your iTunes account if you died. Ok, maybe it’s more than that, but that’s the gist of it.
The most challenging estate administrations that I have had involved searching for accounts where the deceased had been chasing the (now non-existent) highest interest rate all over town. Consider how challenging locating assets can be if you didn’t even know where to start!
In the information age, assets and personal information are increasingly held online. Bank and credit card statements are delivered to your email. Video collections are purchased through iTunes, Google Play or Amazon Video. If you’re like me, the only photo albums you have are on iCloud.
The most obvious pieces of your digital estate are online banking and brokerage accounts, but there are other issues worthy of consideration. For instance, I was involved in an estate proceeding where a step-mother hijacked the Facebook account of her recently deceased spouse after his death. As you might imagine, the deceased’s children from were horrified when their deceased father’s account began posting status updates… Without a plan, there was little that could be done outside of legal proceedings to address this.
So, the question is what happens to your digital estate if you die or became incapacitated? The answer is that without some planning, it is entirely possible that many assets could be lost (or hijacked). How would anybody know about them without access to your email or some account listing you might have left?
How can you address your digital estate plan yet still maintain some level of privacy? I have a couple of suggestions for you. First off, create a list of digital accounts (and what is valuable about them) so that there is a record of what is out there. We’re talking pen and paper list here (or at least a print out!). This is at least a place for your family to start. Second, we need a way for somebody to access your emails related to these accounts. So, do you want this person to have access to all of your emails or just those related to assets? If you hesitated, consider creating a single purpose email address for handling digital and financial accounts.
Now, there are several ways to grant your chosen person email access. The most obvious way is for you to give your password to them. However, the best way is if your email provider has a tool to allow you to designate a person to take over your account if you become disabled or pass away.
If your email provider does not have such a tool, then your chosen person will need to have a copy of your power of attorney or Will naming them and giving them explicit authority over your digital estate. They need this anyway. This authority could be narrow or broad. Consider which is appropriate for you. If you wish to maintain privacy over a specific account, you should say so.
At this time, I am only aware of two online tools to allow you to designate a person to handle your account in the event of your death or disability: Gmail and Facebook. Google’s Gmail has the “inactive account manager.” Inactive account manager allows you to set a period of inactivity after which your email account will be shared with your selected confidant. In short, it is a beneficiary designation for your email account. Facebook has created a tool designed specifically for this purpose known as the Legacy Contact.
Your digital estate can be easy or virtually impossible. Even if you have a traditional estate plan, that is simply not enough these days. Addressing your digital estate is a must.