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Digital Estate Planning


Where do you keep your most important documents? A safe? A filing cabinet? Perhaps a safety deposit box in your local bank?

All of these are generally secure and viable locations to keep documents that you may want to pass on to a beneficiary after you pass away.

But, what about your important property that isn’t quite as tangible as a paper document? What do you do with your digital property upon your death?

As of the writing of this article, the law isn’t quite where many may like it to be, considering our online habits and the amount of content we either share or store online. For example, some social media companies may not allow your beneficiary to have access to your accounts as that would violate their terms of service.

“In the event that the owner of the content or account is deceased, the law generally agrees that family of the person who owned the accounts cannot claim a right to access those accounts.” - Transmerica1

So what is the best course of action?

At present, creating a Digital Estate Plan is the best way to deal with your digital property and what will happen to it upon your death.

Here are a few tips to get started.

1. Take Inventory: Take stock of all of your digital hardware and software from computers to smartphones to social media accounts and websites you have access to. This can also include domains that you have registered under your name and copyrighted materials.

2. Decide What Should Be Done With It: Do you want your social media accounts shut down? Do you want someone to take over your revenue generating Etsy account? Be clear with what you want to have happen to all of the items you have taken inventory of.

3. Select a Digital Executor: While the title “digital executor” may not mean much in the eyes of the law in most states, it’s still important to name someone who will be in charge of all of this information. At the very least, they can work with the executor of your estate.

4. Store It: Once you have all of this information compiled, it’s important to store it somewhere it can be accessed. Some examples include with your attorney, an online storage service such as Everplans, or in password protected software.

There are a few important bits here to remember when going through these steps:

  • Firstly, you’re going to need your passwords saved somewhere. These can be saved in something as simple as a spreadsheet or in one of the many password compilation applications available.
  • It’s important that you DO NOT share your passwords in will. That information will become public upon your passing.
  • You need to make sure that your family or attorney is aware of these digital assets so that they are able to access them when it is time. If you don’t share with them this information, there is a chance that this information may be lost altogether with either no one who is aware of it or no one who can access it. Make a final document that is external and gives information on how to execute your digital estate when the time comes.

While the laws may continue to change, it’s still important to begin keeping track of your digital estate, especially since we live in a world where our online and digital property is some of the most important that we have.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. All opinions are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Raymond James financial advisors do not render advice on legal matters. You should discuss any legal matters with the appropriate professional.


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