Your Digital Estate Plan: How to Manage Your Future Online Footprint
Written by Jason C. Henbest, Esq. and Brittany Saxton
In this day and age, people’s assets are not strictly limited to real and personal property. Modernity has posed the issue of assets that cannot be defined by traditional property laws. These assets exist in an online server, but still have the ability to reveal the intimate thoughts and pictorial representations of a single person’s life. What are these law-defying assets? Digital assets.
The innovation of online and social media accounts leaves a big question mark over the future of estate planning, since social media and online accounts are considered digital assets. Digital assets include e-mail accounts, online subscriptions, and memberships. Said accounts typically have individualized login information, and include pictures, videos, messages, and commentary regarding a person’s daily thoughts and experiences. The problem with digital assets: online accounts can exist forever, while a person’s time on earth is limited. The issue then becomes what to do with digital assets once a person has passed away.
Commonly, family members and loved ones of the deceased choose to keep online accounts open and active to reflect on the life of that person. But isn’t it tough to take ownership of a deceased person’s accounts without the correct login information? To save your loved ones the hardship of playing a guessing game, make a list of digital assets, websites with your usernames and passwords, and then appoint someone to manage your accounts.
Irrefutably, estate laws are far behind the technological advances. But social media accounts provide several resolutions for future planning, as well. Google has an estate planning tool called Inactive Account Manager and Facebook has a new feature called Legacy Contact, which both provide proactive ways to manage online information. Twitter and LinkedIn are examples of more typical social media platforms; when people have passed, these companies typically delete the person’s profile upon notification of the death.
For Bitcoin and other online currencies, it is important to understand that these accounts are considered property rather than currency. When a Bitcoin holder dies, his beneficiaries receive his Bitcoin with a tax basis at the fair market value on the date of death. However, if loved ones do not know you have a Bitcoin account, the inheritance process is a bit more complicated. If online currencies are not listed in a Will or Trust and your beneficiaries or trustees are not aware of your account, the account will die with you due to its anonymous nature. It is vital to make sure an executor or trustee knows your Bitcoin, or other online currency login information. Alternatively, in a power of attorney document you can specify that your agent has specific access to Bitcoin or broad access to digital assets.
Regardless whether you have one or many online accounts, it is important to think about how you want your digital assets – and ultimately your online footprint – to be remembered once you have passed away. Consult a well-qualified estate planning attorney with these tough questions to learn how to incorporate digital assets into an estate plan.
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