What Is a Digital Estate Plan?

Traditional estate planning is step one, from creating a will to setting up a durable power of attorney and health care proxies. However, when you and your estate planning attorney create a comprehensive estate plan, you’ll now need to include digital estate planning. A recent article titled “Digital Estate Planning: 5 Things to Do Now to Make Things Easier in a Crisis” from Consumer Reports provides a step-by-step process.

First, get your important information organized. Create a document and either store it in a fireproof, waterproof safe in your home or share it with a secure digital password manager. Include complete contact information for doctors, estate planning attorneys, business partners, financial advisors, family members and important friends. Include land line and cell phones numbers and email addresses. Next, list your medical information, health conditions, prescriptions and pharmacies. Add information for your workplace, schools, houses of worship and community organizations. Anyone you interact with on a regular basis should be included.

Provide information for personal documents, including your birth certificate, Social Security card, estate planning documents, passport and Medicare or other health insurance information.

Your estate planning documents include your advance care directives, including a living will, durable power of attorney and healthcare proxy.

Financial information including bank accounts, account numbers, investments, credit cards, mortgages and car loans or leases should be listed. Make a note about all recurring bills when they are due and how you pay them.

Password sharing with trusted family members. Someone will need access to your online accounts. Ideally, share this information with two people—one who lives with you and one who does not—just in case one cannot help. Phone and computer passwords should be written down or write down a hint you know will easily be understood by someone who knows you well. You can also use a password manager. However, be careful to select one with extremely good security.

Create a legacy contact for major online accounts. A handful of major online platforms now provide an option to name a person who can access your accounts, if you designate a “legacy contact.” Apple, Facebook and Google are among those who offer this important feature. In the future, other platforms may follow.

Add digital assets to your will. Major platforms without a legacy contact feature have strict access requirements. Microsoft says it must be served with a valid subpoena or court order to provide access. LinkedIn and Instagram can memorialize accounts but require legal documentation or proof of death for an executor to gain access to the accounts. Go through all platforms and find out what your executor will need to do to obtain your digital assets. Make sure that they are added to your will. However, don’t include account numbers or passwords, as the will becomes part of the public record during probate.

Digital assets are still tricky. The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), which has been adopted by most but not all states, allows people you designate in your will to access digital property. However, it is not a complete solution. RUFADAA doesn’t allow for access to the content of emails and other digital communications because of privacy laws. Your will needs to have language clearly stating your wish for your fiduciary to be able to access and read your emails.

Call a planning meeting with your family. Talk about your wishes, the planning you’ve done and your expectations for who will handle your affairs. It’s not the easiest conversation, and some family members may be more comfortable than others, but when the inevitable occurs, they’ll be ready.

Reference: Consumer Reports (May 4, 2022) “Digital Estate Planning: 5 Things to Do Now to Make Things Easier in a Crisis”

How to Handle Digital Assets in a Will

Now that cryptocurrency has become almost commonplace, it is necessary to incorporate it into estate plans and their administration, according to the article “Estate planners want to keep the crypt out of cryptocurrency” from Roll Call.

One advantage of using cryptocurrencies in estate planning is the ease of transference—if all parties know how crypto works. Unlike a traditional bank, which typically requires executors to produce an original death certificate and other documents to take control of accounts in the estate, cryptocurrency only requires the fiduciary to have passcodes to gain access to accounts.

The passcode is a complex, multicharacter code appearing to be a long string of unrelated numbers and letters. It is stored in a digital wallet, which can only be accessed through the use of the 64-digit passcode, also known as a key.

While the passcode is simple, it is also very vulnerable. If the key is lost, there is no way to retrieve it. The executor must know not just where the key is physically located if it has been written down on paper, or if it is kept in a digital wallet, but how to access the digital wallet. There are also different kinds of digital wallets.

People do not usually share their passwords with others. However, in the case of crypto, consider storing it in a safe but accessible location and telling a trusted person where it may be found.

People who own cryptocurrency need to give someone access info. If someone is named an executor at one point in your life and they have the information about digital assets, then at some point you change the executor, there is no way to guarantee the former executor might not access the account.

How do you protect digital assets? Using “cold storage,” an account passcode is stored and concealed on a USB drive or similar device, allowing the information to be shared without the user needing to learn the passcode to access the account. The cold storage USB drive can be given from one fiduciary to the successor fiduciary without either knowing the passcode.

Many bills have been introduced in Congress addressing cryptocurrency and blockchain policies. The IRS has issued a number of notices and publications regarding taxes on digital currency transactions. Crypto is no longer an “invisible” asset.

In addition to policies and regulations, litigation concerning estates and cryptocurrency is still relatively new to the judiciary. Planning for these assets to ensure they are passed to the next generation securely is very important as their use and value continues to grow.

Reference: Roll Call (Feb. 22, 2022) “Estate planners want to keep the crypt out of cryptocurrency”

What Assets Should Be Considered when Planning Estate?

The numbers of Americans who have a formal estate plan is still less than 50%. This number hasn’t changed much over the decade., However, the assets owned have become a lot more complicated, according to a recent article from CNBC titled “What happens to your digital assets and cryptocurrency when you die? Even with a will, they may be overlooked.”

Airline miles and credit card points, social media accounts and cryptocurrencies are different types of assets to be passed on to heirs. For those who have an estate plan, the focus is probably on traditional assets, like their home, 401(k)s, IRAs and bank accounts. However, we own so much more today.

Start with an inventory. For digital assets, include photos, videos, hardware, software, devices, and websites, to name a few. Make sure someone you trust has the unlock code for your phone, laptop and desktop. Use a secure password manager or a notebook, whatever you are more comfortable with, and share the information with a trusted person.

You’ll also need to include what you want to happen to the digital asset. Some platforms will let owners name a legacy contact to handle the account when they die and what the owner wants to happen to the data, photos, videos, etc. Some platforms have not yet addressed this issue at all.

If an online business generates income, what do you want to happen to the business? If you want the business to continue, who will own the business, who will run the business and receive the income? All of this has to be made clear and documented properly.

Failing to create a digital asset plan puts those assets at risk. For cryptocurrency and nonfungible tokens (NFTs), this has become a routine problem. Unlike traditional financial accounts, there are no paper statements, and your executor can’t simply contact the institution with a death certificate and a Power of Attorney and move funds.

Another often overlooked part of an estate are pets. Assets cannot be left directly to pets. However, most states allow pet trusts, where owners can fund a trust and designate a trustee and a caretaker. Make sure to fund the account once it has been created, so your beloved companion will be cared for as you want. An informal agreement is not enforceable, and your pet may end up in a shelter or abandoned.

Sentimental possessions also need to be planned for. Your great-grandmother’s soup tureen may be available for $20 on eBay, but it’s not the same as the one she actually used and taught her daughter and her granddaughter how to use. The same goes for more valuable items, like jewelry or artwork. Identifying who gets what while you are living, can help prevent family quarrels when you are gone. In some families, there will be quarrels unless the items are in the will. Another option: distribute these items while you are living.

If you can, it’s also a good idea and a gift to your loved ones to write down what you want in the way of a funeral or memorial service. Do they want to be buried, or cremated? Do they want a religious service in a house of worship, or a simple graveside service?

If you are among those who have a will, you probably need it to be reviewed. If you don’t have a will or a comprehensive estate plan, you should meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to address distribution of assets, planning for incapacity and preparing for the often overlooked aspects of your life. You’ll have the comfort of expressing your wishes and your loved ones will be grateful.

Reference: CNBC (Jan. 18, 2022) “What happens to your digital assets and cryptocurrency when you die? Even with a will, they may be overlooked”

What are Digital Assets in a Will?

Most of us overlook the amount of information and assets we have online, from social media to networking websites, frequent flier miles, online bank accounts, subscriptions, photos, websites, etc. The list of most people’s digital assets has grown considerably in recent years, and yet most have no plan for what should happen to those assets when their owner dies.

This is a growing problem, says msn money, in an article making the case clear: “From Facebook to iTunes to Amazon, You Need A Digital Will!” Every website has its own legal requirements for dealing with the original owner’s death, almost aways hidden deep within the Terms of Service Agreement we all click on without reading. Some have created processes for executors, while others have not. What can you do to make it easier for your executor?

Make a list of everything you access online. Be prepared to be surprised at just how much your life occurs online. Compile a list of all online accounts, usernames and passwords. You probably have to do this bit by bit, as a marathon session might take a long time. Use either a password manager with top-notch security or a password-protected spreadsheet you update around once every three months.

This is especially important for accounts with monetary value. But sentimental value counts too. A side note: all those playlists you’ve created on iTunes? They are non-transferrable and when you die, they are deleted.

What do you want to have happen to each account? You’ll need to decide what you want to happen to each account and, depending on the account, state it clearly in what’s known as a directive. You may want to preserve some, or you may want to shut down others. Some free email accounts are automatically shut down, if they are not used for a certain period of time. Others should be down immediately to prevent fraud. Scammers prefer accounts where the owners have died, since they are often an easy entry to the person’s online identity.

Facebook is one of the platforms allowing you to designate a Legacy contact, so the person can memorialize the account, allowing only friends to see the page and removing some information. If you want to have the page deleted on death, Facebook provides directions.

Each platform has its own rules. Most rely on provisions regarding privacy protection: only the original owner is authorized to access the account. There are now federal and state laws prohibiting accessing private online data, which have created significant obstacles for loved ones to access digital assets. Don’t expect anyone to resolve your digital accounts after you pass, unless you have a digital will. Even with one, there might be issues.

Your estate planning attorney will help you add the correct language to your estate documents as to what you want to happen to each account. It’s important to ensure that your estate plan gives your executor or other fiduciary authorization to access your digital assets and what you want to happen to them. Remember—don’t put account names, usernames, or passwords in a will, as it becomes a public document during the probate process.

Without an inventory of digital assets, it may be simply impossible to ascertain where digital assets are located and how to access them. Looking at credit card statements for autopayments may be a place to start, or at least to stop the autopayments.

This is a relatively new asset class, with laws varying from state to state. Speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure your digital assets are protected, as well as traditional assets when creating or reviewing your estate plan.

Reference: msn money (Dec. 19, 2021) “From Facebook to iTunes to Amazon, You Need A Digital Will!”

What’s Happens to Digital Assets, When You’re Gone?

We all have many more digital assets than we realize. What happens to those assets when we die?, asks Investment News in the article “4 ways to help clients control their digital afterlife.” The answer is not that simple. There are a large number of rules that survivors must untangle, and many family members are stunned, when they find that not only don’t they have access to these accounts, but the data in the accounts may be deleted permanently, when they try to log in too many times.

Almost all states have passed the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), and experts are gaining a better understanding of how this law works and what happens to digital assets when owners die.

Start by naming a digital assets fiduciary in your last will and testament. This person will be able to gain access to digital assets, as directed in the will. If they list their wishes for specific disposition of the assets, their wishes supersede the terms of service provision of each individual site.

Note that these provisions apply ONLY if clients take specific action. Education of family members is important here. This should be part of the overall estate plan.

Start by creating a complete inventory of all digital assets. Try using these categories:

  • Communication: email, contacts, login for phone
  • Rewards programs: hotels, airlines, restaurants
  • Shopping: eBay, Craig’s List, Amazon, department stores
  • Online storage sites: iCloud, data backup sites
  • Finances: online payments, banking, investment accounts, cryptocurrency
  • Social media: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Snap Chat, WhatsApp
  • Gaming sites and fantasy leagues—especially if there is real money involved.

Make sure your will has a provision that names a digital assets fiduciary, as well as an alternate, if that person cannot serve.

In a separate document or in the will itself, list your wishes for each and every digital asset. Do you want your social media sites memorialized or do you want them shut down? Who gets your airline frequent flier miles? Who should have access to emails, taxes and social media sites? Where should pictures go?

It may be easier to use one of several available services that generate secure passwords for each site and store the passwords and usernames. Using provisions for denial of access until death, the named digital fiduciary should have the master password to that service, plus instructions for any two-factor authentication. Remember that your will becomes a public document upon your death, so don’t put any passwords in that document.

Reference: Investment News (Oct. 22, 2019) “4 ways to help clients control their digital afterlife”