When my mother passed away last year, a few days shy of 96 years of age, her family wasn’t concerned with distributing her digital assets. She had none. That would not have been the case with any of her four children, and it would not be the case with most people in this digital age.
If you conduct an inventory of your digital assets, which should be your first step in estate planning for your digital assets, you may be surprised at the number of digital assets you own. You can begin this inventory with a listing of your hardware. Laptops, desktops, cell phones, tablets, flash drives, hard drives, backup CDs or DVDs, and other items may contain digital assets. What is on each of those devices — vital information, pictures, movies, music, financial information, important documents and audio files?
You will want to list software programs you use and how to access them — items such as financial programs, tax preparation programs, spreadsheets, documents and blog programs.
Do you have social media accounts, LISTSERVs, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or others? Do you have online accounts, such as Amazon and other shopping sites, credit cards, cell phone service provider, satellite and Internet providers, bank and investment accounts, email or cloud storage accounts?
Once you have inventoried your digital assets, be prepared to answer questions:
- Who do you want to have access to each of these accounts on your passing?
- Who would you want to access your various digital assets if you become disabled?
- What rights do you have to give to those you want to pass those assets to and to those you want to administer your estate?
- Are there items you don’t want certain people to see or to have access to?
- Are there those you communicate with regularly on social media accounts or email accounts whom you would want notified should something happen to you that would prevent you from communicating with them?
- Are there family pictures, family history or other items you would want preserved for family or others?
Are there passwords required to open the devices, programs and accounts? Passwords should not be included in the inventory but should be protected and kept in a secure location you can easily access and update from time to time. You can then tell your lawyer where it is kept so he can notify your personal representative, trustee or attorney-in-fact as needed.
Preparing a digital asset inventory and thinking through and answering the questions related to how you want your digital assets accessed when you need others to assist you and to administer your estate upon your passing will enable you to begin discussions with a competent estate planning attorney regarding a plan for those digital assets.
While there may, or may not, be a great deal of monetary value in your digital assets, estate planning for your digital assets has become a necessary part of exercising good stewardship in your estate plans. Your attorney-in-fact and/or your personal representative and your family and loved ones will greatly appreciate your efforts.
John M. Hardin is Missouri Baptist Foundation general counsel and corporate secretary.
Finance columns are a regular feature of Word & Way.