You respond to an email, check social media, and save photos to the cloud. With each tap and click, you’re creating an electronic record that’s rightfully yours. And just as you plan for the legacy of your traditional possessions, you should also plan for the future of your digital assets.
Who will get your digital photos after you’re gone? What will happen to your social accounts? Do you want your family to see all your emails? These are important questions that you should consider now, says John Marold, senior vice president and ﬁduciary resource director at Truist Wealth.
The people who handle your estate after you pass will need access to your digital assets. And in most states, your executor isn’t automatically given that access. That’s why it’s important to name a digital executor and legally provide them with your digital account information.
“People should understand the importance of their digital assets,” Marold says. “Just casually giving someone your login ID and password isn’t enough. You need a written expression that you’re giving them the power to access and manage the digital assets.”
But there are so many pieces of your digital life—with more added every day. So how do you begin to create a digital asset estate plan?
Start with a digital audit
Before you can determine an action plan, you need to take stock of your digital footprint. Marold recommends making a list that summarizes all of your online accounts and digital assets, such as:
- Computers, external hard drives or flash drives, tablets, smartphones, digital music players, e-readers, and digital cameras
- Any information or data that’s stored electronically, whether it’s online, privately in the cloud, or on a physical device
- Any online accounts, such as banking and cryptocurrency, email and communications, social media, shopping and rewards, photo and video sharing, NFTs, video gaming, online storage, and websites and blogs that you manage
- Registered domain names
- Intellectual property, including copyrighted materials and trademarks
“The audit helps you see how broad the subject matter is,” Marold says. “It reminds you to look in digital corners that you’re maybe not thinking about.”
One thing that can kick-start your inventory: The Truist Wealth advisory team offers a planner you can physically fill out, listing digital information along with more traditional assets such as real estate, trusts, and artwork. The planner prompts you to consider some of the less obvious digital assets, such as frequent flyer and hotel rewards programs.
Next, consider a plan for each digital asset
Now that you’ve taken inventory, think about what you want to happen with each digital asset. Do you want your social media accounts to be deleted after you die? Should your digital photos go to the family member who will cherish them the most? Who’s responsible for canceling your online subscriptions?
To better understand your options, learn more about your state’s laws. Most states have enacted some form of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), which gives you the power to dispose of digital assets in much the same way as tangible property.
RUFADAA allows designated fiduciaries to manage digital property including computer files, web domains, and virtual currency. But it restricts a fiduciary’s access to electronic communication accounts and content—such as email, text messages, and social media posts—unless you provide consent in a power of attorney, will, trust, or other official record. RUFADAA has a three-tiered priority system for how a digital asset is disposed of:
- Tier 1: If a digital service offers a tool to designate what happens to your account after you pass away or become incapacitated, this designation prevails over all other documents. For example, you can use Google’s Inactive Account Manager to designate a trusted family member to download parts of your Google data. Facebook, Apple, and other popular digital companies offer a similar legacy contact service.
- Tier 2: If you don’t use a tool from a digital service provider, your direction in a power of attorney, will, trust, or other record is used.
- Tier 3: If there are no legal documents, fiduciary access to your account is decided by the digital service provider’s terms of service agreement, which often restricts access to the original owner.
When considering whether to grant access to each digital account, it’s important to remember all the information that’s included in that account.
“There are times you’ll want to grant access, and times you don’t,” Marold says. Granting access to your email account, for example, means every single email in your account can be accessed. “You may be providing information that maybe you don’t necessarily want to share.”
Finally, put your plan into action
With your inventory of digital assets and general knowledge of the law, you’re ready for the next step—making your wishes official. This can include naming an executor to manage your digital property after you die, similar to the executor of a will that distributes your physical property and money. The digital executor can be the same as the will executor or someone else.
“Maybe there’s somebody in your family who’s better with online details and should be your digital executor,” Marold says.
The role of your digital executor could include:
- Distributing your digital assets to your heirs
- Archiving and deleting ﬁles and hardware
- Closing accounts, ending subscriptions, and continuing to pay bills
- Modifying or deleting social media accounts, including informing friends and followers of your passing
Sarah Slattery is an advice and planning strategist and senior vice president for Truist Wealth. She’s part of the team that helps educate clients about estate planning—including digital assets. Slattery recommends communicating your wishes for your digital assets to your family in addition to formally adding them to your plan.
“The more you can explain to family, the easier it is for them to navigate it,” she says.
And just as it’s important to regularly revisit your overall estate plan, it’s also wise to keep your digital asset plan current.
On password management and crypto keys
Your digital executor will need usernames and passwords to access your information. Online services that store your passwords are a convenient way to keep them updated and, if used properly, will help ensure that your passwords are saved in one place for your executor, Marold says.
Some online password managers permit you to delegate access to a trusted third party. But that delegation doesn’t mean the third party has legal authority to manage your digital assets after you die or become incapacitated.
With cryptocurrency, the private key needed to access your crypto creates a unique scenario. Since crypto isn’t managed by a centralized authority, the private key is vital to accessing your money. The key can be stored in a secure crypto wallet. But, as with passwords, your digital executor needs specific access to the key, or else they won’t be able to access the money.