Consider this for your estate plan…
So you have meticulously assembled your estate plan and provided for your loved ones: a life insurance policy for your kids, the cabin up north goes to uncle Bob, your investment accounts to your husband, your brother-in-law does not get the 1940s baseball mitt handed down to you by your sports legend dad…but you might be forgetting something. Who will take care of your Facebook profile, and other digital media accounts?
Over the last decade, the time and energy Americans spend on their computers, including the time spent procuring and curating digital files and managing social media accounts, has skyrocketed. This trend transcends age group, gender, race, and even socioeconomic status, with social media use across all groups ascending from approximately five percent of Americans in 2005 to nearly seventy percent in 2016. With all that increased usage of the internet, some of our possessions are also increasingly digital ones, and we need to prepare for what happens to those files should the unexpected happen. What’s more, many of our accounts related to our financial assets and liabilities can only be found online, with many Americans eschewing traditional mail and paper checks.
Just like traditional estate planning relates to the management and transfer of financial accounts, real estate, and personal property, the relatively new digital estate planning covers your digital possessions, from your pictures, music, and documents located on your smartphones and laptops to the internet based items such as your Facebook or Instagram accounts, your iTunes purchases, and your Amazon or Snapfish account that stores all of the family photos.
Here are some steps you should consider to secure your digital estate:
- Take stock of your digital estate.
Just what is it that you have in your digital estate? You may not even know the full extent of your digital estate or have an idea of what may be important. Digital assets of value may include music, book, or video purchases, sentimental items such as family photos, or domain names you own. Start drawing up a list of these items and think about what each of them is worth, both in terms of objective monetary value and to you personally. If you were to become incapacitated or die today, what would you want to make sure got passed on? Which passwords do you want to leave for which members of your family, and how will you let them know? Consider these questions as your first step.
- Back-ups, back-ups, and even more back-ups.
In the parlance of computer-savvy individuals, we have what is known as the rule of two. The rule of two states that if you have two copies of something, you only really have one, because someday when you are least expecting it, your computer hard drive could have an unfortunate knocked-over-by-the-toddler accident, and all of your valuable digital assets will disappear like that.
In other words, however many backed-up copies you think you have of a file, you actually have one less than that, so make one more just to be safe. Once you have a fair idea of the files you want to pass on when you die or become incapacitated, make multiple copies on different platforms: save one to the cloud, one to a USB stick, one to another computer, and maybe email yourself one more. Back up your digital estate early and often because it is better to be safe rather than sorry.
- Writing down your digital estate plan.
You should put your digital estate plan into action. Just like with traditional estate planning, that means designating someone as your personal representative, who can ensure that your social media accounts or websites will continue to be run or be transferred according to your wishes when you pass. If your chosen personal representative is not tech savvy, they can enlist the help of someone else, whether a family member or professional, to assist them in these matters, especially if there are domain names or other intellectual property involved.
Finally, as with your will for your tangible personal property like your car and television, if you want to make specific digital gifts to one person or another, put those gifts in your will. If it is a digital asset of value to you and you want to make sure it ends up in the right hands, ask your estate planning attorney to specify that gift in your will.
Whatever you do, do not give uncle Bob access to your Spotify account where he can see all the Britney Spears you’ve been listening to. It’s a guilty pleasure, we won’t judge. Contact us for a free consultation to see how we can help you.
Contact us today to start planning: 248.399.3300 or Info@TheProbatePro.com.
 “Social Media Fact Sheet.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 12 Jan. 2017, www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media/.
Guest writer on this article: our attorney Zachary Trosch!