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More and more estates these days include digital assets in two main categories: devices and accounts. Typically both devices and accounts have controlled access which requires a password. You might only have a handful of devices that require passwords, such as a smartphone, home computer, laptop, tablet, and a home security system. But the number and variety of accounts could be very surprising if you were to count them out. Online banking (brick & mortar, and online-only), e-mail accounts, social media Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn), online shopping and their related consumer credit accounts (Amazon, Ebay, retail store websites), life insurance, investment accounts, online photo storage or cloud backup services, blogs and websites that you manage, photo or video sharing websites (YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr), and media purchasing sites such as GooglePlay, AmazonPrime, and iTunes.
Many of these accounts may contain information that you would like to pass on to the beneficiaries of your estate. This could include the transfer of wealth from an online investment account, to sharing photos and videos from your life, to enjoying the songs, movies, and TV shows that you have purchased online.
The great question is this: If you were to pass away, would those who are named to handle your affairs be able to access these devices and accounts? Unfortunately, in many cases the answer is “No” unless careful preparation is made. The law is trying to keep up but there is no clear and reliable guarantee that your Executor or Successor Trustee will be able to access your digital assets through operation of law. However, a court order won’t do much good to unlock your smartphone or laptop. And in fact, your online accounts may be inaccessible by your Executor even with a court order depending upon each account’s terms of service agreement.
So what’s the solution? A homemade solution might include storing your account ID’s and passwords somewhere safe, yet accessible, when you are gone. You could use a password protected file on your computer, so long as you provide the password to the file and to your computer to your Executor. There are online services and applications that can be used to store your password information. This can be helpful even during life to keep track of your various and often related or derivative passwords.
Our firm will soon be unveiling an online document/information storage service for our clients with Everplans. [www.everplans.com] This service has demonstrated to be an intuitive and secure location to save not only passwords and instructions for digital assets, but also a service to store and access information and instructions for many elements of your life including: estate planning documents, degrees and certifications, instructions for your pets, religious affiliation and instructions on your funeral or memorial service.
-Attorney Jason C. Walker