Estate planning is for everyone and should not be ignored. If you don’t have a will and estate plan in place, you should begin working on one now. Traditionally, Estate Planning has been thought of a one-time transaction, but in a constantly evolving environment of technological and social considerations, it is prudent to update your Estate Plan frequently. Think of it as a ‘living plan’ rather than a static one.
Everyone should at least have the following: a last will and testament; a living will; a durable power of attorney; and a designation of a health care surrogate. In addition to these basic documents, there are some more ‘modern’ considerations to take into account in your Estate Plan. While they may not be as obviously important as your Grandmother’s china or your Great Uncle’s war medals, you need to consider your digital assets in your estate plan, as well as your more traditional tangible ones. More and more of our assets are now in digital form. Some of your digital assets have actual value, some are purely sentimental, and some may be neither.
Do you have bills set to be automatically paid from your account? Do you have social media accounts with sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.? Do you own digital music through iTunes? E-books through Amazon? How would you feel about someone posting a memorial page for you on a social media account? You should keep a copy of all of your online accounts, log-in information and passwords (banks, social media, Netflix, etc.) with your estate planning documents. It is important to provide clear and specific instructions in your will as to your intentions for any digital assets you may have. Do not, however, list user names and passwords in your actual Will, as they will become public record when it is filed.
Google currently has a function available that will transfer all of your account data (including all your email and documents stored in a Google Drive) to a designated person or persons of your choice, after your account has been inactive for a particular amount of time. In the alternative, you can also direct Google to delete all of your entire account and data after a period of inactivity designated by you.
Apple’s user agreement authorizes you to back up any music purchases on up to five devices or computers. Since their agreement only provides ‘access’ or ‘use’ to digital files and not actual possession, if you want your heirs to be able to access your digital music, you must make sure those individuals have access to back-up drives or devices. Kindle also allows family members with user ID information to access any of your digital content.
When appointing a personal representative to your estate, your representative should understand the importance of your digital assets to you. It is important that you select someone who is tech-savvy, preferably familiar with your online accounts, and able to locate your digital assets. Someone who knows about Paypal accounts and shopping websites, for example, can be sure that your credit card and account numbers are deleted from those sites. After your passing, your personal representative can contact your various social networking and photo-storing type accounts, and after proving their authority, most of those sites will release the content of your account. Many will not, however, release your user information or password.
Once your estate plan is properly in place, you can download assured that your digital property will be passed on to your loved ones. Further, you help your loved ones avoid the hassle of trying to turn off automatic payments. So, prepare or modify your will today. Then, get back to avoiding work by checking Facebook, Amazon, iTunes, or your favorite website or social media outlet.