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Don't forget about your digital life when making estate plans

Are you beginning your journey into estate planning? Have you gathered a list of your assets, decided on a distribution plan and talked to your family about your intentions and wishes?

Those assets may include your home, family heirlooms and other assets you accumulated during your career. You may feel as though you accounted for everything and are ready to begin the documentation process. Wait, did you consider the assets you have online?

Nearly everyone has a digital life

These days, you can bank online, trade stocks online and conduct any manner of business deals electronically. Odds are you have a Facebook account, a Twitter account or some other social media account that may contain pieces of your life.

You may even keep all the information about your physical assets on a computer. Without this information, your loved ones could have a difficult time settling your estate. In fact, they may miss assets that you intended them to inherit.

When you decide to create an estate plan, you need to consider these digital assets as well.

Making your digital assets available after your death

One of the biggest issues that many surviving family members encounter is access to digital information. You can eliminate this obstacle for your loved ones by ensuring that your estate plan accounts for the following:

  • The need for account names and passwords
  • A way to decrypt information on your computer or other electronic devices
  • The need for express permission to access accounts
  • The ability to gain access to online accounts

For instance, Facebook will not just allow anyone access your page upon your death. You may need to contact each online entity to determine what they each require to allow your executor or someone else to access your online accounts.

Leave a trail of breadcrumbs

It isn't enough just simply pave the way for your surviving family members to access your digital assets. You need to make sure that they can easily find the information they need when the time comes. It may help to keep a separate list of all of the information needed for your digital assets and let someone know its whereabouts. You could even backup all your data, photos and videos on something like the Cloud so that they remain in one place.

You can also allude to the existence of such a document, whether written or digital, in your estate planning documents. This is the place where you would also provide the appropriate permissions for access. You will more than likely need to include permission for the companies with which you have accounts to provide information to whomever you name.

Do you really own that asset?

As part of the process, you may want to review each asset to determine whether you actually own it. For instance, any music you have on iTunes doesn't belong to you. You only purchase the right to use it. You can't give away what you don't own.

You may need some help

Failing to make the proper plans for a digital asset could mean extensive time in court while your family attempts to gain access to it. This could also diminish the available assets in your estate since the process could be expensive depending on the circumstances. These days, many estate-planning attorneys can help you identify you digital assets and make the appropriate arrangements for their access and distribution upon your death.

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