Sometimes, we overlook how much little personal items will mean to our loved ones after we're gone. Your old photos and letters might seem trivial, but to a loved one, it might be an invaluable way to stay close after you're gone. In this age of email, Facebook and Instagram, accessing those memories may mean going online. To help keep your memory alive for your loved ones, your estate plan should include appropriate instructions for accessing your digital assets. Additionally, you should review your plan routinely to make sure that all parts of your estate plan, including your digital estate plan, is current and up to date.
These days, more and more people of all ages are living more and more of their lives online. As that percentage continues to increase, estate planners continue to “bang the drum” of including your online and digital assets when you formulate your estate plan. Having a plan that allows your loved ones, after you're gone, not only to have the benefit of your tangible assets, but also your electronic things, is essential. What's also vital is making sure that you keep your digital estate plan in mind when it comes time for an estate plan review.
When one crafts an estate plan, the things one leaves behind usually have either financial value or sentimental value. Digital assets are no different. Many people may think to include their access codes for their online banking or stock accounts, but may not be as diligent when it comes to, say, social media. All of these are important, though. Just as that old shoebox full of photographs and old letters probably has great value to someone in your family, so do your images saved in your smartphone or on your Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook accounts, or personal messages in your email.
Without a digital estate plan, gaining access to your electronic assets can be difficult or sometimes next to impossible. The internet is filled with stories of loved who faced enormous challenges from Yahoo! or Apple or other electronic service providers when it comes to gaining access to an account of a deceased loved one. These battles often come at a price of great stress and considerable time for the loved one. If a court and/or lawyers must become involved, then it becomes stressful, time consuming AND expensive!
Just like estate planning for tangible assets, estate planning for digital assets is an ongoing process, not a one-time deal. An estate plan review is great time to make sure that everything in your plan is up to date. Not only should ask yourself if you've undergone any life events that might affect your plan, you should also inquire about your digital assets. Just like you might need to contemplate how a new grandchild might impact your plan, you should also make sure that changes in your online accounts are reflected. If you opened a new account, whether it's a new online banking account or a new email account, make sure that your digital plan includes the necessary username and password information for accessing that account. If you've changed any of your passwords, you should make sure that your list of existing usernames and passwords is still 100% accurate. If you have relocated your list of usernames and passwords to a new location, make certain that your instructions to your loved ones regarding how to access this list once you're gone are current.