By E. Drew Nelson, Attorney
From the preparation of a simple will and power of attorney to complex trust planning, most people understand the importance of at least some level of estate planning to ensure their wishes are observed upon their death. Each individual’s needs may be different, however, one common thread that links most people in this modern society is the use and control of digital media and assets.
There are almost 1.7 billion Facebook users now, 2 billion YouTube users, and just under 1 billion Instagram users globally. Most people have used the internet to access some form of account or transaction from online banking to amazon.com purchases. Our population is only becoming more tied to a digital presence as new generations begin to grow up not knowing life before the internet. In the past, people preserved memories in photo albums; now those may be online on Instagram, Pinterest, or in a Facebook photo album. Daily transactions have also shifted into the digital realm. Online banking now is standard, and where once you had to go stand in line at your local branch, many transactions from depositing funds to securing a loan can be accomplished online. The importance of the rise of the digital world is that upon death it is very unclear what happens to many of these online accounts and digital assets you may possess.
There still remains no uniform law regarding the status of digital accounts or assets. Some states have attempted to regulate these assets, but the law is still in its infancy. While state lawmakers try and catch up to the ever-evolving digital world it is important for you to protect yourself and your digital assets as part of your larger estate plan. Practically speaking, it is possible to have a large amount of money tied up in Amazon, Venmo, or Pay-Pal accounts. If you own Bitcoin and die without leaving the key, the money is essentially inaccessible.
The question then arises: what happens to those accounts after my death? It is important to plan with an attorney to draft a will and power of attorney that deals with the disposition of digital media and assets and allows access to those accounts after your death. To assist your family in the event of your death it may also be helpful to have a list of usernames and passwords for your various digital accounts. Keep in mind this document would need to be regularly updated as you change passwords or add/delete accounts. It is clear there may be privacy concerns related to keeping a list of all your usernames and passwords; in fact, this runs contrary to what most internet security personnel will tell you to do. One recommendation is to have one list with usernames and another list with passwords that can be stored in two separate places or given to two family members.
These issues will become increasingly important as more and more people’s lives are tied to digital media and assets. The attorneys at Brinkley Walser Stoner are already assisting clients in planning for the disposition of digital assets as part of their comprehensive estate plans.
Please consult with us about how to best protect and authorize your named representative to handle your digital assets upon death or disability.