Many sources, including the Wall Street Journal, have recently devoted space to covering issues related to estate planning and online accounts. While it is essential to ensure that your estate plan addresses how to deal with your web-based financial accounts, such as your checking account, retirement account or Paypal, having a truly complete digital estate plan involves much more than just handing down passwords. It means ensuring that your loved ones have access to a variety of online resources that, while easily overlooked, may contain a wealth of items with substantial sentimental or economic value.
As we’ve discussed before, having a digital estate plan is essential to allow a trusted relative, friend or professional to access your online accounts. In this way, they can retrieve or destroy (according to your stated wishes) your online personal effects like digital photographs or documents, or retrieve your online financial information.
You, as the client, hold one of the biggest keys to ensuring that you and your attorney can craft a truly comprehensive digital estate plan for you. That key is to maintain a list, whether paper or electronic, of all your electronic assets and the access information for each item, including usernames, passwords and security questions and answers.
As your prepare your list, it is vital to include all your online assets and accounts, not just your financial ones. Many people’s online presence goes far beyond just a Paypal account or an access portal for Internet banking. You may maintain a successful blog or own the rights to a popular Web domain. You may have an iTunes library with hundreds or thousands of songs having significant cash value, or you may have a “cloud drive” or a Youtube account, filled with digital copies of priceless and irreplaceable family photos and videos. All of these may hold real value, whether personal or cash, and should be included in your list.
Whether you keep your inventory list as a paper document or an electronic one, it is essential that you give this item maximum security. If you keep your list as hardcopy, consider placing it in a safe deposit box or fireproof box. If electronic, consider using an encrypted file or an online data management service.
Another step you may wish to take is utilizing service providers that have a protocol for dealing with these issues. For example, earlier this year, Google announced a new policy allowing users to give the service provider special instructions in the event of prolonged account activity. The user can also give Google’s Inactive Account Manager with the names of as many as 10 “trusted contacts.” The trusted contacts could then receive access to the inactive user’s data. This policy governs many Google-owned platforms, like Gmail, Google Drive and Youtube, among others.
More and more, our lives are increasingly lived and recorded online. Whether it is your banking or financial accounts, your journal, your music collection or your family photos and videos, many people have huge portions of their financial affairs and personal effects contained only online or in electronic formats. To make sure the monetary accounts and priceless treasures you’ve stored online pass according to your wishes, get in touch with Madison estate planning attorney Daniel J. Krause of Krause Law Offices LLC. He can help you ensure that you have a plan in place that covers all of your assets and meets all your needs. Consult Attorney Daniel J. Krause today.
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