Social Media & iTunes Accounts Can (And Should) Be Part Of Your Estate Plan
Q: What is a Digital Asset?
A: Digital assets are any type of digital content owned by an individual and stored in digital form. They include digital photographs or videos, email accounts, social network accounts, blogs, domain registrations, financial accounts, tax preparation accounts or virtually any other type of account maintained online. Digital assets may be stored on an individual device, on the Internet, in the “cloud” or in a third-party account controlled by the individual.
The average person has 90 different online accounts1. A survey by technology security company McAfee reflected that the average American attributed a value of $55,000 to digital assets. To be clear, however, a digital asset does not necessarily need to have monetary value in order to be included in an estate plan. Many digital assets have sentimental value and, if left out of a will, could be very difficult for heirs to inherit or access.
Consider family photos or videos that would not be accessible due to the password protections on a home computer. Another common example is social networking accounts, such as Facebook, which could remain active in perpetuity long after the account owner had passed away. Other assets, like an Apple iTunes account, may contain thousands of dollars’ worth of content that could be lost if the executor of the estate were unable to access such accounts.
Q: How do I Account for My Digital Assets Within My Estate Plan?
A: There are several different ways to account for digital assets within an estate plan. Those who have an established estate plan may begin by creating a list of their online accounts, usernames and passwords and provide them to the fiduciary of their estate. Additionally, it is important to provide any information necessary to access home computers or other electronic devices, such as mobile phones or tablets. An estate planning attorney should draft any authorizations necessary to allow the fiduciary the ability to manage or distribute digital assets. This will allow the fiduciary to not only access the devices, but gain access into any accounts or digital content intended to be passed onto heirs as stipulated within the estate documents.
Mariner Wealth Advisors, in fact, offers a Personal Document Locator, which includes an area to itemize and provide access to digital assets. This information is kept along with the location of other important documents, including wills, trusts and any other documents that need to be accessed at the time of an individual’s passing or incapacity. Clients of Mariner Wealth Advisors can utilize Mariner GPS technology to store passwords and logins digitally.
Q: Should I Just Add Online Account Information to My Will?
A: It is not wise to include usernames and password information in a will. The will becomes part of the public domain at the time of an individual’s passing, and leaving that type of sensitive information open to the public could result in theft or other types of identity abuse. As stated before, it’s best to leave this type of information with a fiduciary or other trusted third-party so only intended individuals will be able to access your digital assets. Nonetheless, it is important to provide a clause in the will to specify that you are providing your executor access to those online accounts.
The views expressed are for commentary purposes only and do not take into account any individual personal, financial, or tax considerations. It is not intended to be personal legal or investment advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any security or engage in a particular investment strategy.
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