With more and more of our lives taking place in the digital realm, our valuables are no longer limited to just those we can touch. Digital assets now require explicit attention during estate planning. Legal experts offer pointers, including specifically designating a “digital executor.”
Where Do Our Digital Assets Go?
When we register for online accounts, including cryptocurrency, social media, and images or videos, most of us impatiently scroll through the user agreement and terms of service, eager to check the little “consent” box and be on our way. Lawyers point out that typically, information about what happens with our account when we die is included in the small print we agree to as we scroll along. Companies may for example have a policy for terminating accounts or detail how and when next of kin can obtain them. Experts at Wilson & Wilson emphasize that it’s best to proactively set up plans for the transfer of our digital assets and offer these tips about getting started:
Most states have some type of legislation in place regarding how to handle one’s digital assets. Often, traditional executors or will representatives have access to some digital information, but this access is often limited and they may only be able to access information related to files needed for managing the physical estate.
Appoint a digital executor: In many states your will executor won’t automatically gain access to your online information. You’ll need to assign someone to handle your digital assets and provide them with the information and materials to do so. People often use the same executor as their will to manage their digital estate, but you can also choose a different person if you wish.
Create a digital assets inventory: Take an inventory of all the accounts you have that store your digital information and have all of your logins and passwords in one place. There are programs you can use to store this information securely such as LastPass, 1Password or Bitwarden. You can also just create a spreadsheet, although this might be more time-consuming and not as secure. Make sure to keep this list up to date by adding new or removing unused assets as well as updating passwords whenever they change.
When you appoint an executor, remember, as The Mercury explains, executors are fiduciaries, with the legal responsibility of protecting the interests of the estate and beneficiaries. That’s why fiduciary bonds, such as executor bonds can be helpful—and sometimes even required. Essentially, the bond guarantees that the executor will carry out all duties in accordance with the law. Colonial Surety is here to help executors in any state quickly obtain their required bonds—and avoid probate delays. At Colonial, the steps to obtaining executor and other bonds are quick and easy: get a quote online, fill out the information, and enter the payment method. Instantly print or e-file the bond right from anywhere—even probate court. Obtain an Executor Bond Here.
Share, Secure and Explain
Wilson & Wilson stress that once digital accounts are organized and an executor designated, it’s important to take the time to ensure that the executor understands the intentions for the digital assets and knows how to access all of the necessary and related information. Be sure that information is stored securely. Since wills pass through the public process of probate, it is best not to keep sensitive information, such as account numbers and passwords with the will. As estate law experts explain: “You may opt to give your digital estate plan to your attorney, use a secure digital storage service that your executor has access to, or lock it in a safe. Just make sure your digital executor knows where it is and is able to access it when needed.”
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