Digital Assets and Estate Planning

When you start thinking about your estate plan, physical property like your home, your car, and your bank account will often come to mind. However, we live in an increasingly digital age, which means that you may have digital assets that should be included in your estate plan. A digital asset is any electronically stored information that has some value.

If you already have an estate plan in place, you may need to adjust it to account for digital assets that you may have overlooked.

Examples of Digital Assets

Digital assets cover a lot more than you might think. Consider how your loved ones will access your accounts when you are gone. Anything that may require a password or another authentication may be regarded as a digital asset. Think about the following examples:

  • Email and communication accounts
  • Video and photo sharing accounts
  • Online storage accounts
  • Web sites and blogs that you manage
  • Any data or information stored electronically (on the cloud or your hard drive)
  • Flash drives
  • Digital music accounts
  • Digital cameras
  • Domain names
  • Intellectual property (copyrighted materials, trademarks, etc.)
  • Tax and financial documents kept in digital form
  • In-game items from online games
  • Online seller accounts
  • Digital currencies (amounts held through PayPal or in Bitcoins, for example)

A good portion of your life may now be reflected in a digital format. Take some time to think about which assets should be considered part of your estate plan.

The Value of Digital Assets

Many people exclude digital assets from their estate plan because they do not feel like they have any real value. However, according to a survey conducted in 2011 by McAfee, most Americans valued their digital assets at over $35,000. Of course, the sentimental or emotional value of many digital assets can far exceed that estimate. It is difficult to put a price on personal photos, videos, and writings that you would like to pass on to your loved ones.

The value of security is often enough for many individuals to include their digital possessions in their estate plan. For example, your digital information may contain vital personal information about you, your spouse, your children, or other loved ones. It is important to get this information in the right hands after you pass.

Naming a Digital Executor

Most estate plans that address digital assets will appoint an individual, often a spouse, child, or another relative, to take control of digital assets. He or she will take steps to “settle” your digital estate. This person can be the same individual you name as an executor or trustee, but it does not have to be. The person you name will follow your instructions to carry out your wishes for your digital assets—whether that means simply closing down the account, maintaining the information, or moving it to another digital location.

Your estate planning attorney can help you craft a document that sets out your wishes for all of your assets, not just your physical ones. Alexander Biddle of Biddle Law can also help you think through which digital assets need to be addressed in your estate plan. Contact us for a free one-hour consultation to learn more.