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What’s Happens to Digital Assets When You’re Gone?

Planning for digital assets is an important part of an estate plan.
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Until now, the terms of service for each individual site have determined who has ownership and access after a death and whether the assets are deleted, frozen or can be transferred.

We all have many more digital assets than we realize. What happens to those assets when we die?, asks Investment News in the article “4 ways to help clients control their digital afterlife.” The answer is not that simple. There are a large number of rules that survivors must untangle, and many family members are stunned, when they find that not only don’t they have access to these accounts, but the data in the accounts may be deleted permanently, when they try to log in too many times.

Almost all states have passed the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), and experts are gaining a better understanding of how this law works and what happens to digital assets when owners die.

Start by naming a digital assets fiduciary in your last will and testament. This person will be able to gain access to digital assets, as directed in the will. If they list their wishes for specific disposition of the assets, their wishes supersede the terms of service provision of each individual site.

Note that these provisions apply ONLY if clients take specific action. Education of family members is important here. This should be part of the overall estate plan.

Start by creating a complete inventory of all digital assets. Try using these categories:

  • Communication: email, contacts, login for phone
  • Rewards programs: hotels, airlines, restaurants
  • Shopping: eBay, Craig’s List, Amazon, department stores
  • Online storage sites: iCloud, data backup sites
  • Finances: online payments, banking, investment accounts, cryptocurrency
  • Social media: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Snap Chat, WhatsApp
  • Gaming sites and fantasy leagues—especially if there is real money involved.

Make sure your will has a provision that names a digital assets fiduciary, as well as an alternate, if that person cannot serve.

In a separate document or in the will itself, list your wishes for each and every digital asset. Do you want your social media sites memorialized or do you want them shut down? Who gets your airline frequent flier miles? Who should have access to emails, taxes and social media sites? Where should pictures go?

It may be easier to use one of several available services that generate secure passwords for each site and store the passwords and usernames. Using provisions for denial of access until death, the named digital fiduciary should have the master password to that service, plus instructions for any two-factor authentication. Remember that your will becomes a public document upon your death, so don’t put any passwords in that document.

Reference: Investment News (Oct. 22, 2019) “4 ways to help clients control their digital afterlife”

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