An increasingly important aspect of creating a personalized estate plan today involves issues surrounding digital estate planning. Today in our series on basic estate planning questions, we are going to take a closer look at common questions people have about digital estate planning. Though understanding digital issues is important when crafting a plan of your own, you should always ask your attorney about any questions you might have.
What is a digital asset?
A digital asset is anything that is primarily based on a computer, or that involves the Internet. Digital assets can be very simple, such as your email account, or incredibly complex, such as an online business with multiple employees or contractors located on multiple continents.
As the importance of communications technology increases, digital assets continue to grow with it. A decade ago, few of us would have considered our phones one of our most important possessions. Today, however, many of us rely on our phones to communicate, conduct business, store sensitive information, and more. A phone is itself not a digital asset, but it contains or stores information, such as photographs, as well as allows you to access other digital assets you might have.
What is digital estate planning?
When it comes to estate planning, how do people go about protecting the assets they might have on a cell phone or laptop? Who will have access to your email accounts if you fall ill? Who will be able to access your online bank account? Who will know you have these assets in the first place? Digital estate plan involves considering all of these issues and making sure that your choices and desires will be protected.
For example, let’s say you occasionally buy and sell items on eBay. You go to garage and estate sales and sell some of the items you find online. Your buyers pay you through PayPal, which you’ve linked to your bank account, but only you know your PayPal account access details. If you should fall ill tomorrow, will someone else know about your online selling? Will someone else know how to access your eBay account, or PayPal account? Will that person be legally allowed to transfer your money if you’re incapacitated? What about after you die? Will your executor have any way of finding out that you have these types of accounts in the first place? If so, who inherits it?
A digital estate plan will answer all of these questions.
How do I create a digital estate plan?
You will create your digital estate plan as you create your general estate plan. Your attorney will walk you through the process, and will be able to answer any questions that pop up. You can also rely on your attorney to tell you what your options are and to give you advice about what the best option in your situation might be.