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Digital Estate Planning

In a digital world, many of the things that we hold dear aren’t tangible. It is common to access family photos, songs and movies, and business correspondence through online accounts. Many people manage their money, taxes, and utilities through online accounts and files. So much of our lives occur online. However, we don’t often think about what happens to our digital assets when we are no longer here or unable to manage them.

Anything you store online or on your devices is considered part of your digital estate. Typically, digital assets are created when you set up a username and password when creating an online service account. Digital estate planning is the plan for how these assets will be handled after your death. Who will get access to them?

Password protection and terms-of-service agreements can make it difficult for loved ones to access your accounts. They may also be protected by laws surrounding data privacy and unauthorized access to computer systems. The terms-of-service agreements of online services may add even more restrictions on access. If you don’t leave specific instructions regarding who can access these assets (and how), no one may be able to recover your digital assets legally. Service providers and the law are evolving to help handle digital assets after death. Many states, including Kansas, have adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), which lays out three tiers for accessing digital assets.

Tier 1. If a digital service provides a tool to designate what happens to assets after you die, this designation guides what happens to the account.

Tier 2. If there isn’t any tool, then the owner’s directions in a will or legal document determine the handling of the account or asset.

Tier 3. If neither of the first two scenarios is present, the terms-of-service agreement dictates how those accounts can be accessed. Those agreements often restrict access to the original owner.

Preparing a digital estate is no different from managing the rest of your affairs. Making a list of the digital accounts you own can help your loved ones protect your memories as well as your estate and identity. Be thorough with your inventory and login information.

  • Personal devices and computers, both personal and work equipment. This may include cellular phones, tablets, computers, and external hard drives.
  • Password manager.
  • E-mail. List of personal and work accounts.
  • List all your digital accounts including banking, investing, credit cards, budget services (Ex: Mint.com), retirement, life insurance, and tax preparation. Also, include cryptocurrency keys if applicable.
  • Utility and property services.
  • Social Media. List all accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Online Storage. List all cloud-based accounts such as Apple iCloud, Google Drive, and Dropbox.
  • Online shopping, subscriptions, rewards, and services. List all accounts and apps such as Amazon, HelloFresh, Etsy, and Uber.
  • Entertainment and media. List all accounts and apps such as Apple iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube.
  • Security Systems. List properties for which you have security systems or codes, such as your primary home, vacation home(s), and business(es).
  • Intellectual property and/or other specialty digital assets. List all patents, trademarks, copyrights, videos, photographs, images, or presentations.
  • Domain names, websites, and blogs.
  • Other online accounts and apps. List any accounts not covered above, including P2P payment services such as PayPal and Venmo.

After taking inventory of digital assets, outline your wishes. List your intentions for each digital asset or account. Who will manage specific accounts, devices, and logins? Should your social media accounts be deleted immediately, or should the contents be archived?

Name an executor. Consider naming a digital executor to carry out your wishes for managing digital assets.

Find safe storage. Store your digital estate plans in a secure place and give instructions for accessing those plans to the people who will be managing your estate after you are gone. This could be with an attorney, an online storage platform, or in a secure safe or file cabinet.

The process of digital estate planning is still developing but taking these steps will help your loved ones protect your memories and better manage your estate.

Additional Resource: Digital Estate Planning Publication MF3591 MF3591 Digital Estate Planning (ksu.edu)