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Four Steps to Protect Your Digital Estate
- April 2021
- While the internet makes our lives more convenient, it also adds new complications. What happens to all our online data and assets if we become disabled or pass away?
Many of us rarely go a day without the use of a computer, cell phone, or tablet. We use these electronic devices to transact a lot of our daily business online -- paying our bills, accessing our bank accounts, emailing others, planning trips and using airline miles, reallocating our investments, and storing digital photos. And that's not even mentioning social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
So, what happens to our digital assets and devices if we become disabled or pass away?
It is a story repeated time and time again -- a loved one cannot access accounts and a company or financial institution cannot communicate even the smallest of details to the loved one, as there is no legal documentation allowing for such communication. Stories that hit the hardest often involve family members who are desperate to access photos as rememberance of a loved one. re four actions you can take make sure your digital estate is not lost
Document your passwords. Make sure that someone you trust, presumably the same person or people you appoint on your financial power of attorney and as personal representative or trustee of your estate, knows your passwords or how to find them. This can get complicated, since our passwords are ever-changing and sites require new passwords or have different requirements for password configurations. There are a few possible solutions to this challenge:
(1) Keep a written list of your usernames, PIN numbers, and passwords and let your future agent know where it can be found. (Peak Estate Planning highly recommends storing it in the same secure location as your estate planning binder.) This handwritten document has the benefit of being impossible to digitally hack.
(2) Use a few secure passwords on all accounts that you can memorize and provide to your agent.
(3) Use a service such as LastPass or Keychain for Apple devices that stores all of your passwords. All you need to do is provide your agent with access to this one account.
Add digital provisions to your estate planning documents. Make sure your financial power of attorney, will, and living tust specifically authorize your agent, personal representative, a nd trustee to access your digital accounts.
Although, this this will help them to access most online accounts, it may not be a solution for all accounts as your access is governed by contracts with the online companies — those agreements we all check off without reading. Therefore, the next step needs to be taken in conjuction with
Check if the online company has provisions for substitute access. Many online companies have their own systems for providing limited access to others in the event of our incapacity or death. Some online accounts will allow you to name someone you trust to have access when, and if, necessary. Google, for instance, allows you to name an Inactive Account Manager who will be granted access to your account after a pre-selected amount of account inactivity has passed. Additionally, Facebook w ill allow you to name a legacy contact in advance to look after your memorialized account or choose to have your account permanently deleted from Facebook.
Save elsewhere. If you have anything saved online that's really important to you, such as photographs, videos, or certain papers and documents, save it somewhere else as well. Print out important papers. Save everything to your computer (making sure you share your password) and to a USB drive. In fact, you should copy to more than one USB drive to share with whomever you deem appropriate.
If you take these steps, you and your family will be at much less risk of losing access to and control of your online life and property. As life is ever changing, it's worth reviewing all of these steps on an annual basis.