You cannot own cryptocurrency or non-fungible tokens. You might not have a large Instagram account or run an online business. But if you do almost anything online, you probably have digital assets – electronic records that you own, control, or authorize. Failure to arrange for these assets during your lifetime could lead to unnecessary costs, stress, and heartache for those you leave behind.
Online photo and video collections could be lost forever. Heirs could also be excluded from electronic records with monetary value, such as cryptocurrency and loyalty miles. Email and social media accounts could be hacked. Even basic tasks, like paying bills online or canceling subscriptions online, can be difficult or impossible if you haven’t made arrangements.
“There would be no way for someone to know how I pay my bills unless they can access my online account and my emails,” says Abby Schneiderman, co-founder of Everplans , a site for creating end-of-life plans and document storage. “And if it takes you awhile to access those accounts, you’ll realize after the fact, ‘Well we’ve wasted thousands of dollars on services we don’t use or don’t. need, because we can’t access it. ‘”
Here’s what you should consider and do to make this job easier for the person who ends up doing it.
LIFE ONLINE DOESN’T LEAVE A PAPER TRAIL
In the past, your executor – the person responsible for settling your estate after your death – likely could have found out what you owned and what you owed by rummaging through the papers in your filing cabinet and the bills in your mail, notes Sharon Hartun. g, the author of two books for financial advisers, “Your Digital Undertaker” and “Digital Executor”. This is no longer the case.
“Because our digital assets tend to be virtual in nature, an executor won’t find them when searching our home office,” Hartung said. “We’re going to have to leave additional instructions on what we’ve created and how the executor is supposed to access it.”
Google and Facebook are among the few online providers that allow you to designate someone to manage your accounts in the event of disability or death. Apple recently announced plans to add similar functionality. However, the vast majority of online providers do not have this option. To further complicate matters, almost all vendors prohibit password sharing, Hartung says.
Typically, executors cannot demand access to your digital assets unless you specifically give them permission in your will or trust. Even then, a provider’s terms of service may limit what the executor can do and prevent it from achieving your wishes.
So giving your executor your login credentials may be the easiest way to make sure they can achieve your wishes, estate planning experts say.
MAKE AN INVENTORY OF DIGITAL ASSETS
The first step in creating a plan for your digital assets is to make a list of them. Searching for a “digital asset inventory” will bring up spreadsheets, including a detailed one. created by the professional organization Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, or STEP, which allows you to list your accounts, usernames and, if you wish, your passwords.
Remember to include access to your devices. If you’ve set up two-factor authentication on the accounts to verify your identity – and you usually should – your executor will need the password to unlock your phone or any device that receives the passcode.
You might also want to leave a letter of instruction telling your executor about your wishes regarding various assets – what to delete, what to archive, and what to transfer to heirs, for example.
Another option is to keep your login credentials in a password manager such as LastPass or 1Password. These tools usually have a “notes” field that allows you to include details of how you want the account to be managed. You will need to provide your executor with the master password, which may be included in the letter of instructions.
KEEP YOUR INVENTORY SAFE – AND UP TO DATE
You don’t want to include sensitive information like passwords in your will, since this document becomes public after your death. Instead, keep the inventory and letter of direction with your other estate planning documents in a safe place, such as at your attorney’s house or in a safe, and tell your executor where to find them. You can also upload the information to an online storage site, such as Everplans or LifeSite, which allows you to give someone you trust access to the documents.
Consider reviewing the inventory at least once a year and make any necessary updates. You’ll rest easier knowing that your loved ones won’t be left out of your digital life.
“Creating a roadmap is really important so that there are no surprises, no tears, there is as little stress as possible,” explains Schneiderman.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the NerdWallet personal finance website. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score”. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @lizweston.
NerdWallet: write a will? How to stop stalling and get there https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-will-101
STEP: Inventory of digital assets and digital devices https://www.step.org/system/files/media/files/2020-10/step-digital-assets-inventory-v2.pdf