Mind Your 4 Digital Asset Types

An attorney I met had a father-in-law who ran 3 businesses from his Blackberry. When he died suddenly, she was shocked at how difficult it was to access his emails, accounts, and online life. Every online provider had different requirements. This was her introduction to the concept of the “digital asset.”

Digital Assets

Have you ever given thought to your digital assets and how someone else would step in your shoes? It’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords. Keeping track can be overwhelming, but we can begin by naming 4 main types – personal, financial, business, and social:

1) Personal assets:

Photos, Movies, Books, E-books, Music, and Podcasts. Unlike your Simon and Garfunkel records, Michael Jackson CD’s, or Rocky DVDs that the kids will get whether they want them or not, there are some e-libraries you can’t leave to anyone. For example, access to Kindle and iTunes libraries die with their owners.  For all your photos and videos stored in the cloud, make sure you have a backup, especially if it’s iCloud. Upon proof of death, all content in an iCloud account is deleted.

2) Financial assets:

Bank, Brokerage, PayPal, Frequent Flyer, Bitcoin, etc. Did you sign up for paperless statements? Good for you, but make sure you have documented somewhere that the accounts exist. If no one can get into your email, and you haven’t kept good notes or a plan somewhere, they may not know you opened a new Treasury Direct account. 

Additionally, once the bank or brokerage company learns of your demise, they may lock out the online account, preventing anyone from accessing statements. Statements are essential for understanding how much was in the account at date of death, but primarily, how your assets are titled.

3) Business assets:

Blogs, E-books, Books, E-commerce sites. Intellectual property is often housed digitally. Have you inventoried any copyrighted works and addressed them in your estate planning documents? Can someone get to them in a way that will continue to produce revenue or royalties? 

4) Social accounts:

Email, Text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc..  An elderly friend of mine passed away 6 years ago but his face and profile still pop up occasionally as someone “I might know” on my Facebook and LinkedIn. I am guessing his family either aren’t involved with social media, or simply were not able to log in and post a nice memorial tribute to a wonderful man. What do you want your online presence to look like, if at all, and for how long, once you’re gone? 

With all of these different, it seems like you might need a digital asset will and executor. It turns out there are such things now, and 10 states, including Florida, have ratified them through passage of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Asset Act (RUFADAA). (You can more about it here: https://www.onefpa.org/journal/Pages/APR18-Estate-Planning-for-Digital-Assets-Understanding-the-Revised-Uniform-Fiduciary-Access-to-Digital-Assets-Act-and.aspx. In the act, you can name a digital asset executor – someone to access your email, text messages, and social media accounts, in your will or trust.

If you have been reading or watching for a while, you know I am a fan of having a Notebook. But if you aren’t the paper Notebook type, or just ready to reduce paper, check out www.everplans.com. For $75, you can have a plan and inventory of your digital estate, easily accessible to those you trust. If you give it a try, let me know how it works out, and I’ll post feedback here for future readers. 

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Dig Those Digital Assets

Shortly before a relative of mine 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 – a “digital asset” at Treasury Direct.  I uncovered it 11 months later as I was clearing out the file cabinet, in a manila folder with a scribbled label. The folder was empty, but a userid and several crossed-out passwords were written on the inside flap. It turned out to be a five-figure account. 

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.” Paypal accounts, frequent flyer accounts, Amazon accounts, eBay accounts, and any kind of points-earning sites might be worth a little, or a lot. 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. There are 4 categories that our digital assets can fall into. Next week I’ll go into more detail and how to plan for them.

But while it’s tax time and you might have all of your financial life pulled together, give it some thought: how could someone easily take over my digital life if necessary? One app I am using is Dashlane – it sits on my hard drive and remembers all my 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 chose not to use the “cloud ” version of Dashlane to share among all my devices.  I’ll be providing lots of other resources in an upcoming e-book on end-of-life planning and digital assets (Porchview Publishing, $7.99). If you would like to be on the pre-order list for a coupon, become a subscriber to the free monthly e-letter, “The View From The Porch,” at https://www.hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com

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