A growing number of individuals and businesses are accumulating sizable digital estates. Participation in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, your own Blogs and Websites, even email all create digital property that is expanding dramatically every year. What happens to those assets and information after you are gone?
Unfortunately, if you don’t take the appropriate measures to secure these assets or make them easily transferable to your heirs, it can be a long and involved process to get them properly handled after you are gone. So what are you supposed to do?
Five Suggestions To Consider:
Digital Executor: First, along with your financial estate plans, you need to appoint a “digital executor’ to carry out your wishes related to this rapidly growing area of technology. This person should be someone who is very comfortable with online activity and new technology as a whole. They may or may not be the same choice as you have selected for your financial executor, but it is a good idea to make sure that if they are different individuals, they have a reasonably good working relationship.
Online Inventory: Second, you should take an inventory of all your digital or internet related accounts. This should include the account name (eg, Facebook, YouTube, website, email etc.), account number if applicable, user ID, password and the specific URL for logging in. I recommend keeping a digital copy on an encrypted flash drive as well a printed copy kept in a safe deposit box or other secure location.
Digital Instructions: This can be a separate sheet or can be incorporated into you inventory. For each digital account or asset, provide specific instructions about what should happen to this account if you become incapacitated or pass away. Should the account be closed and deleted, kept running and providing income for your heirs, should previous posts, tweets or updates be saved and printed for your family? You need to provide specific instructions and it is a good idea to ask your family what they would like to have done with these items as part of your digital estate planning process.
Renewal Information: If you have websites or domain names that you wish to have continued upon your death, you will need to provide the registrar and hosting company information to your digital executor. Make sure that you provide expiration dates and specific instructions for whom you want to take over these assets. If you have arranged special terms or conditions for these assets, be sure to provide the details, contact person and phone numbers for all relevant accounts.
Desired Future Plans: It is also a good idea to provide an explanation of how you want these assets to be developed, marketed and expanded in the future. While your beneficiary may not honor these requests, their ideas may be better (or worse) based on new trends or technology, but try to give them some guidance. If your vision was successful in the present, chances are that you have a good sense of what people want. This quality can evolve over the years and could be replicated to meet future generations if they understand your philosophy.
Summary: As the need for this new age of digital estate planning continues to grow, various online services are beginning to develop. While you can make these arrangements on your own with a little preparation and planning, you may want to consider your alternatives. Which ever direction you choose to follow, be sure to give careful thought to every aspect of your new digital estate plan. Just remember that you can always change your mind and your wishes. As time passes you may also find new and better alternatives and selections. But take the first step now and get your digital assets protected.
Keith Madera is a financial expert, author, speaker and father of five. He has been a financial adviser in the Western New York for over 30 years. He is the owner of SENIOR Financial and Tax Associates and founder of the Madera Foundation, a private scholarship program for area youth.