Dodging Digital Estate Pitfalls
“What happens to your Facebook and Google accounts after you’re gone? Nothing, if you don’t make a plan.”
-Wall Street Journal, Dec. 19, 2020
During this time of pandemic social distancing, the vast majority of people have shifted more of their daily activities to digital formats. From online bank, brokerage, and email accounts; to social media sites and photo storage archives, these digital assets are essential tools for adapting to the new challenges of daily life. Care and consideration are required to implement effective plans for assisting our loved ones and agents should we become incapacitated by illness or injury, or unexpectedly pass away.
Ask yourself this: “If my agent had to handle all my online accounts as early as tomorrow, would they be able to do so? Would they know where to start” For most people, the answer to this question is “No, they wouldn’t even know which accounts to look for, let alone all my usernames and passwords.” One’s digital estate extends far beyond online bank accounts to encompass a web of valuable information and resources, including email, social media, and subscriptions to various services that often store personal and financial data. Ironically, the increasing use of digital technology to simplify our lives also tends to complicate the management of our estates.
“Today, we have more video, audio and photos [kept by loved ones] than ever before, but they’re often locked away, trapped behind layers of usernames, passwords and texted security codes.”
- Wall Street Journal, Dec. 19, 2020
Sometimes, losing a password results in a lost fortune. The fate of several investors in the digital currency Bitcoin is an extreme, yet sobering, reminder of how important it is to keep a secure list of important passwords. Due to the highly secure nature of Bitcoin, there are limited alternative means to access accounts if investors cannot recall the passwords they chose and many investors have found themselves permanently locked out of accessing their lucrative investments after too many failed guesses at their original passwords. As the January 12, 2021 Seattle Times article “Lost passwords lock millionaires out of their bitcoin fortunes” highlights, forgetting a password can prove to be more than just an inconvenience. When it comes to a person’s heirs this concern is amplified - the family of the recently deceased might not have any means of gaining access to secure digital accounts left behind by an ill-prepared relative.
Being prepared for the worst requires proactive planning that includes taking inventory of all digital accounts and ensuring that your agent or personal representative knows where and how to gain access should they be called upon to manage those digital assets in your stead. For example, you could request our free Digital Asset Inventory form to track your digital access information across all the digital platforms you use. This document can be a lifesaver in the event you are incapacitated, and your relatives or agent must manage your digital affairs.
Advance planning in this area is a manageable organizational measure, and one well worth the time and effort to protect and preserve access to your valuable digital assets.
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The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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