An effective estate plan can help avoid probate and reduce costs, delays, and taxes. Estate planning and the drafting of your will should also address the reality that life and work is performed online and deal with digital assets.
In the past, the executor could typically settle an estate by reviewing documents, looking through file cabinets and reviewing bills. But digital assets are virtual and unavailable unless specific instructions are left on gaining access.
Digital assets now include electronic records with monetary value such as cryptocurrency, and other assets such as frequent flyer miles, email, and social media accounts. Basic tasks are also performed online, and executors need access to perform basic tasks such as paying bills and cancelling subscriptions.
Google, Facebook, and Apple are among the few online providers that allow the appointment of someone to manage your accounts if you die or become incapacitated. But most online providers do not allow this option.
Executors usually cannot obtain access to digital assets unless you provide them with specific authority in a will or living trust. A provider’s terms of service may still restrict what executors may do and impede them from carrying out your wishes.
Almost all providers forbid sharing passwords. Providing executors with login credentials may be the most effective way of assuring that executors carry out your wishes.
Making a list of digital assets is essential for a digital asset plan. It should contain a list of accounts, usernames and, if warranted, passwords.
This should also include access to devices. Executors will need passwords to unlock phones or other devices that receives authentication if you have two-factor authentication for verification of your identity on accounts.
A letter of instruction can provide guidance on your wishes for various assets. You can tell your executor what to delete, archive and transfer to heirs.
Login credentials may be kept in a password manager. These managers usually have a field for notes that can include details on handling the account. Your executor should have the master password for these managers.
Passwords and confidential information should not be contained in the will which may become a public document. The inventory and letter of instruction should be kept with other estate planning documents in a home safe, with your attorney or other secure location. Reputable online storage sites allow a trusted person to have access to these documents.
Inventories should be reviewed periodically, like once a year. Updates will help assure that your executor and family will have needed access.
Attorneys may assist you with developing these and other important plans. They may also assure that appropriate documents are drafted.