Digital Estate Planning & Why It’s Crucial

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Digital estate planning after a loved one passes away has received growing attention in media and blogs, offering tips about what people should do to safeguard their digital assets — from their Facebook presence and digital files to a digital map of their financial assets.

Wealth Adviser writes that people should make handling digital assets part of their overall estate planning, suggesting a four-step process; 1) conduct a digital “fire drill” to identify important or valuable digital information, 2) take an inventory of those digital assets and find a place to secure that information, 3) back up your data, and 4) put your digital estate plan in writing.

Having access to our digital assets after our death is recognized as an important legal issue. The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform Laws has developed a law allowing the executor of a will to access emails and social media profiles associated with an estate — a law that has been adopted by 39 states and is being considered by seven more.  But an executor really needs more access than that basic information.

“By engaging in some simple estate planning, you can protect your privacy as well as ease the management of your estate after your death,” Natalie Banta, an Associate Professor of Law at Drake University writes. “Plan for your digital assets in the same way you would any other valuable tangible or intangible asset. After all, digital assets are today’s shoeboxes of photos, letters, and other mementos. Planning can preserve your legacy in its digital form.”

Central to that process is finding a place to store and organize digital information securely. Preferably that’s someplace more secure than a shoebox. The importance of managing a digital estate goes well beyond managing such things as emails, photos, and social media profiles: People that have well-organized digital vaults can use those repositories to manage their overall estate. Imagine if an executor was granted a key to a digital vault with bank-level encryption that stores plans for the disposition and management of estate assets, making life easier for heirs.

Lawyer John Goralka writes on Kiplinger, “Your estate plan should be designed to make the administration process as easy as possible for your loved ones. This includes making it convenient to manage your assets upon your incapacity or death and saving them the hassle of sorting through your paperwork to collect assets and pay your bills. Without specific provisions in your estate plan and careful planning, access to this critical information can become difficult for your family or loved ones.” A key part of that, Goralka says, is setting up an online vault.

Setting up a digital estate goes well beyond security and peace of mind. It also gives patrons a venue to express exactly how they would like their estate managed after their death. The owner can use that vault not just to set out all the details of the estate, from financial plans to a person’s social media profiles, but can also write such things as a Mission Statement setting out the preferred values, ethics, and investment approach that the owner would like.

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