Digital fortunes need estate plans, too

SAN FRANCISCO (1/21/14)--You might have a will and estate plan, but do you have a plan for your digital assets if you die? On average, Americans value their digital assets at more than $54,000, but few people make plans for these assets once they're gone (MarketWatch.com Jan. 10).
 
Your loved ones will have a hard time accessing your online financial accounts, blogs, social media sites, and the like if you don't have a plan in place. From full-service estate plans for online accounts to password management programs, some services can help get digital affairs in order. But if you use these programs you risk that the company might not be around when you die, or that it might be hacked or compromised.
 
Whether you use an online service or just write your wishes in a notepad, being proactive about your afterlife digital wishes can save loved ones time and frustration:

  • Choose a digital executor--Pick someone you trust to be your digital executor. You can choose your main executor or someone else. In some cases it makes sense to name different executors for different roles. For example, maybe your primary executor doesn't really understand how Facebook works.
  • Create an inventory--Make a list of all online accounts/assets you're allowing the digital executor to access. Give this person permission to manipulate, maintain or delete your digital assets.
  • List detailed wishes--Write down exactly what you'd like to happen with your digital assets. Maybe you want your Facebook page memorialized and your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts deleted. Give instructions about how to get money out of your PayPal account and what to do with emails. There's no guarantee that your wishes will be carried out 100% if they don't mesh with service providers' policies, but being proactive and detailed will increase the chance of things going as you intend.
  • Review details about company estate-management tools--Email service providers and other companies recently have started to change their policies about handling digital assets after an account owner dies. Becoming familiar with each company's policies can help in the long run.
For related information, read "Family Heirlooms, Not Money, Most Important to Heirs" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

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