Cyber Estate Planning

We all live a part of our lives online. We share our life with our family, friends, and colleagues through social media. We stream books, music and movies from our online libraries. We use cryptocurrency. And we store important documents and photos in our vaults online. But rarely do we stop and think about what happens to our digital life after we die.  We don’t consider the array of our digital footprint as assets since they are intangible, but they are. Since these digital assets don’t magically transfer it is important that you ensure your loved ones are left with clear instructions on how to access them. This can be accomplished in the same manner that you would transfer other tangible property, in a well crafted estate plan prepared by a knowledgeable attorney.

What is my digital footprint? 

Everything that you do, use, and own online is considered part of your digital footprint. Essentially your digital footprint consists of two categories, your digital assets and your digital presence. Digital assets are things such as music, books, photos, movies, cloud storage, financial accounts, and cryptocurrency while your digital presence includes your social media accounts, email accounts, and personal websites. 

Steps to Prepare Your Digital Life In the Event of  Your Death

Below are steps to take to ensure that your digital footprint is managed, transferred and preserved in the way you desire in the event of your death or incapacity. 

  1. Do a digital audit and make an inventory of all your digital assets and all your digital presence accounts. Don’t assume that your loved ones will know where and how to locate your important and sentimental things.
  2. Some accounts will allow you to activate family sharing. When you pass, those who are included in your sharing will be able to continue to access your content. This would include accounts with Itunes, Kindle and Stream. Be sure to review the policies of each account as some content is only available for your lifetime and may not transfer.
  3. Some accounts allow you to designate a contact. Facebook and Twitter allow you to designate a legacy contact to memorialize your account in the event of your death, preserving your memory online, or you can request that your account be deleted. Google, also has features to contact a designated person after a period of inactivity, if you have set up the “inactive account manager” feature.
  4. Use an online password emergency manager kit to keep an up-to-date record of your accounts and passwords for you and store all necessary up-to-date information for your loved ones to access your accounts.
  5. Consult with an experienced estate attorney to ensure your estate plan includes your digital footprint that conforms with current laws.

Can I Just Leave A List of Accounts? 

It is not enough to simply leave a spreadsheet of your digital accounts with corresponding passwords. Due to strict privacy and security provisions, non-owners would be “hacking” into the accounts, even with passwords. However,  if appropriate provisions are included in estate planning documents such as a power of attorney, a will and / or a trust, North Carolina is one of approximately 41 states that has enacted laws to provide for the handling of digital accounts through The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. This act allows an account holder to designate a third party fiduciary the ability to manage the accounts in the event of death or incapacity. 

Most of our online activity is now second nature to us. We don’t realize how extensive our digital footprint has become or that it is actually property that can be preserved and passed on like tangible assets.  Don’t make it harder on your loved ones to piece together your digital footprint.  At Stroud & Panetti we will work closely with you to ensure that your digital legacy is preserved and your wishes are honored. 

We emphasize personal service. We work with you to address all your concerns, including your digital footprint. By understanding the complexities of estate planning and we are focused on helping you through the planning process with patience and understanding. We are here to compassionately provide you with the help needed to  protect your rights and provide options to ensure both you and your family have a secure future. If you have questions, or need assistance in preparing an estate plan that includes your digital footprint please contact us for a consultation at 336-724-2600.

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