You want to keep your estate plan current, but how do you make a roadmap for your entire digital life? Use this guide to learn how to organize your information and keep it up to date.
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What Are Digital Assets?
Your digital assets are assets that transfer electronically, such as cryptocurrency or NFTS. Your digital accounts include all your online accounts and records, which amount to lots of information and data. You might have once stored information for your loved ones in a file cabinet. However, there is not always a central repository for your digital assets. And accessing them is more challenging than finding a cabinet key.
Organizing all the information that your family will need to manage your accounts sounds harder than it is. All you need are clear instructions for your wishes, a savvy digital fiduciary, and a good password management system. This article will show you what information you need to record, walk you through password management and security features, explain how to maintain your digital estate plan, and more.
The Basics of Your Digital Will
Your digital will is a set of instructions that tells your loved ones what you want them to do with your digital assets after you pass away. Preparing a digital will takes time, but you can divide it into four steps:
- Inventory and organize your assets.
- Record your wishes for your digital assets.
- Name a digital fiduciary.
- Make your digital will legally binding and store it in a safe place.
This article will explain each step in writing your digital will.
Inventory and Organize Your Assets
Conduct a digital self-audit to identify and organize all information about your digital assets. This involves inventorying all your existing accounts and recording login information, indicating where all your data is stored (both physically and digitally), and getting rid of accounts you no longer use. Make an organized repository your loved ones can use to find and manage your digital data.
What Information Should I Record?
There is no such thing as “too much information” when it comes to helping your digital fiduciary access your data. From your computer password to bank account security questions, every additional piece of login might be vital to saving a headache down the line.
First, ensure your fiduciary knows how to access all your devices. Record your:
- Computer password
- Tablet password
- Phone password or pattern
Only some accounts need detailed information. For example, your online dictionary account is unlikely to contain sensitive or necessary information. Here are the most critical types of accounts your survivors will need access to:
- Email accounts
- Financial accounts (bank accounts, investment accounts, digital wallets)
- Accounts that regularly charge your debit or credit card (Netflix, monthly subscription services)
- Accounts that generate revenue
- Your business website
- Cloud storage
To access your online account, you must provide your login information. This may change depending on the service you are using, but that information generally includes the following:
- Your username
- The email address and/or phone number you used to sign up for the account
- Your password
Many accounts require additional proof beyond a password, especially if you are logging in from a new device. Note if you have additional security measures, including:
- Two-factor authentication (2FA) (this may be a text, phone call, email, or authenticator app)
- Security questions and their answers (such as “what is your mother’s maiden name?”)
What if you do not use a username and password to log in?
- If you use biometric access (your fingerprint or facial recognition), add the biometrics of a loved one in case of an emergency. Most major phone companies allow you to add another person’s fingerprint.
- Note which accounts use single sign-on, which means using one service, such as Facebook or Google, to log into another service.
You and your fiduciary will appreciate the time spent organizing your information for better security and retrieval.
How Do I Organize My Passwords and Other Login Information?
The easiest way to give someone access to your accounts is to provide them with your login information. You might have all your passwords memorized, written down on paper, stored on your computer, or all of the above. Choosing one method to record login information for your accounts will help your survivors and digital fiduciary navigate your accounts with minimal hassle.
A safe password manager is the easiest way to keep information about all your accounts in the same place and do more than store your passwords. These programs can keep copies of your passport and credit card numbers, important documents like tax returns, or a digital version of your birth certificate and allow you to leave notes on every entry.
A Note on Cryptocurrency and NFTs
Between accessing your remaining assets and filing taxes on your cryptocurrency transactions, your digital fiduciary will need access to your digital wallet. To access these blockchain assets, a person needs two keys – one public, which functions like an account number, and one private, similar to a password. Because blockchain technology is decentralized and anonymous, if you lose your keys, there is no way to recover them. It is of utmost importance that you create a secure way to pass along your digital keys.
Leave specific instructions on accessing, selling, and transferring your cryptocurrency, and specify who has permission to do so. For additional safekeeping, do not put the numbers of both your public and private keys in the same document. One method is to give your private and public keys to different people who can provide them to your digital fiduciary after you pass. Another is to give access information to your digital trustee.
The legal rules for accessing blockchain assets are still murky. The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) dictates fiduciary access to your online accounts, and each state has its own version. However, RUFADAA was written when blockchain was in its infancy, and it is unclear whether your fiduciary can legally access your blockchain assets without explicit consent. Review your digital will every few years to keep up with current legal practices.
Password managers are available as browser extensions and apps for your computer, phone, or tablet and are very easy to use.
All the information listed above, under What Information Do I Need To Record? can be stored in a password manager. Some password managers have more storage abilities than others, such as the option to record details on accessing your digital wallet.
Record Your Wishes for Your Digital Assets
Depending on what type of digital life you lead, you may want your survivors to close certain accounts, delete certain data, or leave a specific social media post to your friends and followers. When sitting down to record your digital wishes, consider these questions:
- How do you want each of your accounts handled? Are there any accounts or data you want destroyed before anyone can see it?
- Do you want to give someone blanket permission to access all of your accounts, or do you want to list account permissions individually?
- Do you want your social media contacts to know if/when you have passed?
- How will your loved ones find essential data, such as your family photos? Are they on a hard drive or in cloud storage?
- What data would you like transferred to which people? Who has control over, e.g., your family photos?
- Who should receive your non-monetary assets, such as reward points or your in-game purchases?
- How do you want to pass on your cryptocurrency or NFTs? Will you put them in a trust?
- What would you like to do with your digital intellectual property?
- Do you want your power of attorney to have any authority over your digital assets if you are incapacitated?
Name a Digital Fiduciary
Among your digital estate plans, you should appoint a digital fiduciary. This person will act as an executor or power of attorney for your digital assets. It can be the same person as the executor for your traditional will. It is wise to choose someone who is tech-savvy and stays current with new technologies and security features. Your digital fiduciary should be someone you know and trust, as they can access sensitive information. They may need to coordinate with your executor, so choose people you think will cooperate well together. In your will, you can list the specific tasks you would like your digital fiduciary to handle.
If you plan to have multiple digital fiduciaries, clearly delineate their respective roles, including which accounts they control.
Some people name corporations as their executors, fiduciaries, and/or trustees. Some corporations will not manage cryptocurrency, so check your company’s policy if you are considering a corporate fiduciary for your digital assets.
Name A Backup
Your digital fiduciary may get sick, die, or decide they do not want the responsibility. Therefore, it is a good idea to designate a backup executor if your first choice of a digital executor is unwilling or unable to serve.
Assign Legacy and Death Contacts
Some service providers help you plan ahead by allowing you to designate a “death contact,” – meaning someone having limited access to your account after your death. This might be blanket access, or you may be able to limit it to specific functions or parts of your account, such as with Google’s Inactive Account Manager and your Apple ID legacy contact. Facebook and Instagram make it easy to assign legacy contacts which allow you to memorialize or close your social media accounts. your social media accounts.
Your digital fiduciary may need to provide your death certificate to get access to accounts through some companies, such as Twitter and Amazon. Others go further: Dropbox requires your fiduciary to show they are legally entitled to access your files, but the service also has an inactive account policy.
How Do I Make My Digital Will Legally Binding and Secure?
You can formalize your digital will by including it in a legally binding document such as your last will and testament.
Creating your will online with FindLaw’s state-specific Last Will and Testament forms is easy. As part of a complete estate plan, you can also make a:
If you have a will, you can make a codicil or write a new will and revoke your previous will. Different states have different legal requirements for making a will valid, and some permit you to use a self-proving affidavit to move through probate more quickly.
Keep Digital Asset Information Out of Your Will
You should not include sensitive information in your last will and testament because once your will goes through probate court, all the included information will become public. Any information on accessing your digital data could lead to identity theft or fraud. Instead, include a provision or add a codicil to your will that acknowledges your digital will’s existence and validity and gives specific authority to your digital fiduciary.
Leave Instructions With Your Digital Fiduciary
Create instructions on accessing your digital estate plan, and then provide a copy to your digital fiduciary and/or attorney. You should also keep a copy in a digital vault or secure physical storage, like a safe or safe deposit box. You do not need to give away access to your passwords before your death. The following records will be helpful:
- A list of all your paid subscriptions, including details such as billing and renewal dates and payment method.
- A list of every account that stores your credit card or bank account.
No matter how tech-savvy your digital fiduciary is, they will appreciate every bit of organization you can provide.
How Do I Maintain My Data and Digital Estate Plan?
Organizing your login information is an ongoing process. You will make new accounts, your passwords will change, and technology will continue to progress. Update your information as changes occur. (Using a password manager makes these updates easier.)
Keep Good Digital Habits
To help your digital fiduciary and maintain your personal digital security, make a habit of the following:
- Change your passwords regularly.
- Enable new security features as they become available.
- Update account preferences for death/legacy contacts.
- Close your old, unused accounts.
- Keep your password management system updated, including deleting outdated information.
Your wishes may change as well. Review your digital will at regular intervals alongside your traditional last will and testament – we recommend every three to five years and after significant life events, such as the death of a spouse or divorce.
Keep these lists on paper or digitally, such as in a password manager.
Learn How To Use All Your Security Features
Security features protect you from unauthorized use of your accounts, impersonation, identity theft, and fraud. You should not reuse passwords, but you should also think about how to answer common security questions that ask for easily available information.
New technologies will continue to require different methods to allow a third party to access your account. As technology progresses, familiarize yourself with new security features and how they protect your data.
Estate planning and probate laws vary among states, and laws regarding digital assets, cryptocurrency, and how they factor into estate planning are continually evolving. If you have complicated digital assets, seek legal advice from an estate planning attorney in your state.