Regardless of whether you have a traditional estate plan currently in place, if you haven’t formalized documentation related to digital estate planning, the time to do so is now. Adults of every age and circumstance can benefit from digital estate planning. Also, as surviving loved ones are increasingly coming to learn, a failure to put a digital estate plan in place can lead to stress, tension, unwanted information, and legal trouble that is best avoided in the wake of an individual’s death.
What Is a Digital Estate Plan?
As an experienced estate planning lawyer – including those who practice at Davis, Johnson & Kallal – can explain in greater detail, digital estate planning is the process of setting expectations and communicating preferences about digital assets and online accounts in the event of death or incapacitation.
Sometimes, individuals choose to leave one set of instructions in the event that they are incapacitated due to illness or injury and one set of instructions for the event of their death. This makes sense, as someone may want their online accounts and activities to be handled differently if they’re in a coma as opposed to when they’ve passed away.
When you craft your digital estate plan, you’ll want to think carefully about how you want all password-protected accounts, intellectual property stored in the Cloud, digital-based financial assets, etc. managed in the event of your incapacitation or death. Are there specific accounts that should be closed and others that should remain open? Who should be entrusted with access to each asset? Are there matters of possession – such as intellectual property – that need to be addressed in your will as well as your digital estate plan?
Managing a Digital Estate Plan
When thinking about who to name to manage your digital assets and accounts, understand that you can name more than one individual to handle certain aspects of this task. For example, maybe you want to entrust your financial accounts to your spouse but you’d prefer that one of your adult children handle shutting down your social media and Cloud-based accounts.
No matter how you approach the task of naming digital estate plan administration duties, keep in mind that if you don’t want someone to be hurt by the activities you’ve engaged in, set limits to protect that person’s knowledge and access to information about your behavior. Meaning, if you’ve done things online that aren’t illegal but could hurt your spouse, for example, make sure that you entrust management of related accounts to someone who is going to safeguard your spouse from knowledge that could make their life harder and doesn’t need to be revealed for one reason or another.
If you aren’t sure of where to start or who to entrust with your digital assets and accounts, don’t be afraid to ask an attorney for some guidance. All too often, people only seek legal assistance when they’re in trouble. Lawyers also serve as excellent sources of information generally when approached in a proactive capacity.