Global Family Law Services

Don’t overlook digital assets when protecting estate

| Mar 18, 2022 | Digital Assets, Estate Planning, Power of Attorney, Wills / Living Wills

Now, more than ever, we regularly rely on our phones and other electronic devices to not only assist us in navigating our daily life, but also to also store information. This information and the devices which hold that information can range from important to some to invaluable to others. Therefore, have you ever considered what should happen to your possibly invaluable data and your essential devices upon your passing? If not, it may be worth revisiting your estate and probate documents to ensure that your digital asset directives are clear.

What are digital assets? Digital assets are anything from online accounts, including social media and emails, to photographs and documents that you store in your computer. Essentially, anything that’s not on paper and that you access with an electronic device is a digital asset including, but not limited to the following: online communication tools; social media accounts; shopping accounts; photo and video sharing accounts; video gaming accounts; online storage accounts; websites and blogs; and loyalty programs such as credit card, airline, car rental, hotel, etc., and any benefits that may have accrued over time.

In electing what happens to your digital assets upon death or incapacitation, it best practice to first identify your digital assets. In other words, inventory all your accounts, apps, programs and devices. This list should be kept in safe place but also somewhere where your fiduciary can get access. For instance, you can place the list in a safe deposit box or you can upload the information to an online storage site that allows you to give a trusted person access to the information.

Next step is creating or amending your estate documents to memorialize your digital asset directives. Fiduciaries and executors cannot demand access to your digital assets unless you specifically give them authority to do so. This may not matter so much if you wish for your Candy Crush Saga scores to die with you. On the other hand, without a written directive, your loved may not have the ability to access the hundreds of digital pictures on your phone or your iCloud.

In Ohio, you may authorize a fiduciary through a power of attorney, trust document, or will to have access or control over your digital assets following your death or possible incapacitation. Therefore, following your death or incapacitation, your fiduciary submits the pertinent document to the relevant online account manager to effectuate your directives.

However, it is important to note that some online accounts are governed by the “terms of service” or a “privacy policy” of that particular service, such as Facebook and Twitter, which wish for you to determine what should be done with your account after you die. For instance, Facebook offers a legacy contact and Google has an inactive account manager, which assumes that user will take the time to get their digital affairs in order in life.

If you are concerned about your loved ones having the ability to access accounts and other digital assets, you might want to consider giving your fiduciary the passwords to your digital assets and devices. This list should be kept in an extremely secure place and should be regularly updated as your passwords change. Further, if you are concerned about the managing of your digital assets following your death, it is best to speak with an estate planner to ensure that you have your bases covered.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.