How to Plan for Your Digital Assets
You may recall the headline in 2018 when Anthony Bourdain passed away that he bequeathed his frequent flyer miles to his wife in his will. It may sound crazy, but many people have nontraditional digital assets of significant value that will be forfeited without planning. It is likely you already have a will in place or maybe even a trust to dictate how your assets are maintained or distributed upon death. As we further integrate technology with our finances and leverage unique rewards program, there is additional planning that should be done. Considering how you want your digital assets and online presence handled at death is a key consideration in your estate planning efforts.
· Bequeath your digital assets in your will. Few people know that things like your credit card points, hotel rewards and airline miles could be transferrable upon your passing. If you have a significant value in any of these assets, it’s worth exploring their transferability. Several airlines allow your family members to claim unused miles if they submit an official request within 12 months. Others (like Jet Blue) have an existing family-pool program where your shared miles automatically get transferred to other participating members in the pool. The same options exist with credit card reward points or hotel rewards programs. Research the policies of the company through which your rewards are accumulated. If the value is meaningful to you, you should consider updating your will to include an outright bequeath of those assets.
· Make a list of your online accounts. If you are not here tomorrow, your online accounts will continue unless disrupted. To make this transition easier for your estate, you should create a master list of any online accounts that have your stored payment information or other private data. This list should include retail websites, financial institutions, and consumer services you subscribe to. Your list should contain your usernames, passwords and other relevant security information. If multi-factor authentication is enabled, notate that where applicable. If you own any cryptocurrency assets, you should write down the details of how to access your wallet since these assets will ultimately be passed according to your will upon death.
· Identify your digital liabilities. As you make your master list, you should also indicate which accounts are set up for auto pay (i.e. your credit card, monthly insurance premiums or utility payments). Any charge that is automatically billed to your account should be clearly identified so that these can be managed or cancelled when you pass. By allowing a loved one to find and stop pending charges, you will ultimately save your estate time and money.
· Decide who should access your digital assets at your passing. There used to be a lot of grey area in the liability of a loved one accessing online accounts after death. In 2015, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act put rules in place around this and now your named executor will have authority to access your online accounts and digital assets without special permission. (This does not extend to email, text messages or social media because they are personal communication channels.) If you want someone other than your executor to handle your online accounts, you will need to expressly name that individual in your will to authorize their access. If more than one person will have a role in managing your online accounts, you should make separate lists of the accounts each will be authorized to access.
· Take proactive measures where possible. Some online accounts allow you to establish a legacy contact to handle your account when you’re not here. With Google, you can name an inactive account manager who will receive an email after a period of inactivity with data you have authorized to share (i.e. financial emails, Google photo data). Facebook and Instagram have a process to name a legacy contact who will memorialize your social media page or delete it depending upon your request. Doing what you can to set things up ahead of time will make it easier for your loved one to carry out your wishes when the time comes.
Technology has had a profound impact on how we live our daily lives, but we should stop to consider the implications that can make for after-life planning. Following some of these suggestions could make things much easier for your friends and family.