Digital Estate Planning: Managing And Willing Your Online Assets

Feb 13, 2024

When you are crafting your estate plan, you want to make sure you account for every detail. As you go through your checklist, don’t overlook an asset that’s more significant than you probably realize: your digital presence. 

If you have a platform of online followers, who will put out a statement of your death to them? If you have an automatically renewing subscription service, who will cancel it? Will your entire library of photos be preserved or rot away in the cloud? All of these questions and more are addressed by digital estate planning. 

Digital estate planning is a newer but nonetheless essential concern for anyone who is in the process of allocating their assets. The laws surrounding digital assets are ever-changing as our understanding of the digital landscape grows, which is why it’s important to address this issue with your trusted estate planning lawyer. The Law Office of Michelle E. Murphy has been serving Texas clients for over 20 years with compassion and diligence. Reach out today to schedule a free consultation and find out about how she can help you manage your digital assets.

What Is And Isn’t A Digital Asset?

If you’re new to the subject of digital estate planning, one of your first concerns is probably what parts of your online presence qualify as digital assets. There is no shortage of aspects that make up a digital identity, many of which would be considered assets that you can plan around in your will. Here are some of the common ones that you will want to address during the estate planning process:

  • Social media accounts
  • Credit card and online banking accounts
  • Cryptocurrency keys
  • Email accounts
  • Photo storage and sharing accounts
  • Your website or blog
  • Domain names
  • Subscription services
  • Downloaded media
  • Transferrable reward benefits (eg. frequent flier miles)
  • NFTs
  • Gaming accounts

And more! As the online sphere and laws addressing it continue to evolve, the digital estate planning process will evolve along with it. If you have questions about your online identity and accounting for it in the event of your death, ask about how it pertains to your estate plan. The world wide web is broad enough that no two digital presences are going to be exactly alike. 

As far as laws already established in this realm, it’s important to remember that there are particular aspects of your digital presence that are not considered assets. For example, your accounts pertaining to your bank are considered digital assets, but the actual funds are not. Any sort of liquidity that translates to real-world currency should be addressed by your traditional estate plan rather than your digital one.

Why Managing Digital Assets Is Complicated

Managing digital assets entails various questions and complications. Since digital assets are so widespread, it can be difficult to account for everything. Also, since there are so many laws pertaining to data, they might come into conflict with your digital estate plan, which is another reason it’s important to unpack this issue with an estate planning lawyer like Michelle E. Murphy.

Digital estate planning concerns have the potential to meet a few roadblocks, and you should be aware of some of the more common issues: 

  • Passwords: If your loved ones do not have your passwords, it is possible that they will not be able to access your accounts and platforms. Contacting a customer service team to unlock your account is not always a possible or even legal option. If you want to ensure that your loved ones can maintain full control of these assets, you need to entrust someone with the passwords or utilize a passport management software like 1Password or LastPass
  • Data Privacy: If your relatives want to gain access to your password-protected accounts after you are deceased, they might be fighting an uphill battle. Private data is federally protected by law, which means that service providers are not in a position to turn over account information unless you have given your express permission. 
  • Terms of service agreements: Similar to the issue of data privacy, a service’s terms will likely contain a clause that protects others from accessing your data. In the best case scenario, there will be a similar clause that outlines procedure following the death of the account owner. 
  • Identity theft and hacking: Conversely, if you fail to provide for ownership of your accounts, you open yourself up to the possibility of hacking and identity theft. Dormant accounts that are still tied to your personal information can be targeted by hackers, who can cause a nightmare for your loved ones.

In order to curb these issues, lawmakers in some states have adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), which provides options for access to digital assets. Here is how it’s structured: 

  • If a service provider has a tool with guidance for loved ones trying to access the assets of the deceased, this tool dictates what will happen to your account. 
  • If a service provider does not have such a tool, your digital asset is subject to what has been provided for in your will. 
  • In the absence of both a will and a designated access tool, terms of service agreements dictate what happens to your asset. 

Since you want to have a say in the outcome of your digital assets, it’s best to include them in your will rather than rely on the laws still largely in the formative process. Read on to learn how. 

Create A Digital Estate Planning Checklist 

If you are looking to create a digital estate plan, there are several steps that you will want to take into account. Every digital estate plan will look a little different and address different needs, so you want to speak with your estate planning lawyer about your specific circumstances. However, these are some basic steps: 

  1. Inventory your digital assets: Take careful stock of all aspects of your online presence. Your inventory management should include passwords and how you will allow them to be distributed and accessed. It will be easiest for your beneficiaries if you keep your accounts attached to a single email for which they have the password in the event they need to update any of your accessibility information. To this end, it is also helpful if they have your answers to any security questions. You don’t want to include passwords or any other kind of sensitive information in your will itself as that will become a public document after your death. Either write down your information in a source that will be accessible to your antecedents or use a password management software. As you go along, you can update your access information if it ever changes or if you delete or add accounts. During this stage, you also want to decide what you want to do with your assets. If you have a blog or online shop, for example, you will need to decide if you want these assets to be shut down or continued and, if you choose the latter option, who do you want to run them?
  2. Backup your data: In order to make sure your information is accessible and transferable, you want to back up your data in the cloud or some other source. 
  3. Name an executor: Your digital estate executor can be the same person as your estate executor, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. If you believe that the dual burden would be too much for your traditional estate executor, or they are not as technologically literate as the position requires, you might want to consider appointing someone else. Digital estate executor is not an official designation, so you will want to reference your digital estate plan and its executor in your last will and testament in order to better legitimize it. 
  4. Formalize your digital estate plan: Be careful to outline your specific wishes for each of your accounts. It is best to formalize your digital will in a codicil to your traditional will as the codicil can be easily updated throughout your lifetime.
  5. Store your documents in a safe place: You want to make sure that your digital executor and the heirs of your estate have access to your documents or else they will not be able to execute your last wishes. Consider investing in a safety deposit box or choose another secure location and make sure the relevant people know how to access it after you pass. 

Contact Michelle E. Murphy For Your Digital Estate Planning NeedsMichelle E. Murphy has over two decades of experience assisting clients with formulating bulletproof estate plans. She is the ideal attorney to help you manage your digital assets as she has the knowledge to account for the essential details that will ensure your digital estate plan stands up in court. Schedule a free consultation to learn about the first steps in preserving your online presence.