Digital estate plans protect essential assets (and selfies)

You may know the melancholy feeling of seeing a friend or follower on social media who has passed away in the real world, their digital afterlife remaining just the way they left it. Over time, our feeds accumulate these “ghost” or “zombie” accounts.

Our lives have become so entwined with digital technology that a digital estate plan isn’t just about your fate on social media. Dying without a digital estate plan is sometimes at least as damaging as disinheriting your loved ones.

What’s at stake for your loved ones?

You don’t need to own any cryptocurrency for a digital estate plan to be critically important to the future of your loved ones. No matter who you are, you almost certainly have high-value digital assets.

For starters, how much would you pay to recover the photos, messages, family trees and all the other accounts of the person closest to you, if they died suddenly? Those assets have real, quantifiable value, even aside from control of bank accounts, retirement plans, health savings, credit cards, reward points, etc.

Would you even know where all those accounts are (much less their usernames, passwords, and answers to security questions)?

Email and other accounts also often have legal value, documenting the deceased’s wishes, proving intent in lawsuits, confirming timelines, etc. Besides, when left unattended by the deceased, they’re vulnerable points of entry for hackers.

Solutions and strategies you can start today

If you already have an estate plan, there’s a high probability that it’s out of date because it probably fails to address the main sticking point of passing on digital assets: legal ownership and access rights.

Those unread (almost unreadable) terms of service agreements you glimpse when you set up an account usually state that online accounts are non-transferrable, even after the account holder’s death. They may also say that sharing passwords under any circumstances violates federal law.

In the last few years, almost every state has adopted a Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), which attempts to balance federal law, terms of service and the needs of beneficiaries.

The details of its provisions make two things vividly clear:

  • Everyone’s estate plan, wills, trusts, and powers of attorney need to be fully updated and very carefully drafted to satisfy as many of RUFADAA’s requires as possible.
  • You need a detailed plan spelling out exactly what should and can happen when you’re no longer available to do it yourself. This plan needs to be put in motion now, not later, as many of its steps require you to decide for yourself and act on your own behalf.

These recent changes and difficult questions are already top-of-mind for qualified and experienced estate planning attorneys, so you’ll find empathy, respect and preparedness when the time comes to reach out. And that time is now.