Dig Those Digital Assets

How many digital assets do you have? While it’s tax time and you are pulling the details of your financial life together, give this some thought: if necessary, how could someone easily step in the shoes of your digital life? Increasingly our financial lives are all online. Could someone you trust find your digital paper trail?

Digital assets and estate planningA Near Miss

Shortly before a relative died in 2008, he showed me where and how he kept his financial life organized. He had accounts in more places than I could keep track of in my head. So we wrote them all down. Between the visit to his home office and our written instructions, I thought I was all clear on what he had and how to get to it. But when it came time, I still nearly missed one. It was the only account for which no statement came in the mail – an online-only account (known as a “digital asset”) at Treasury Direct.  I uncovered it, 11 months after his death, as I was clearing out the file cabinet. It was in an empty manila folder with a scribbled label. A userid and several crossed-out passwords were written on the inside flap. It turned out to be a five-figure account.

Many Kinds of Digital Assets

Nowadays, it’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords. Of course, not all of them have money in them, but they still might be “assets.” Have you thought about the value in Paypal accounts, frequent flyer accounts, Amazon accounts, eBay accounts, and any kind of points-earning sites? Membership sites – AAA, AARP, fraternities, sororities, national professional associations, etc. might hold some kind of group life or accidental death policies. A blog or YouTube channel might bring in a little advertising revenue. Even if the site or account has no potential for ever producing money, most people have some kind of online presence, even if it’s simply their Facebook page, that they might not want hanging out there if they’re no longer around.

One Solution – A Password Manager​

One app I have been using is a password manager app called Dashlane. It sits on the hard drive and remembers sites and passwords. All someone needs to do is enter my Dashlane password, and they can see what I’ve got and how to get to it. Scary? Perhaps. To play it a little safer, I choose not to use the “cloud ” version of Dashlane to share among all devices. There seem to be arguments for and against this strategy for using a password manager.

What’s your digital asset plan should something happen to you? Share a comment here.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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