In our hyper-social world, we increasingly store and share our personally identifiable information online through a variety of social media outlets, cloud-computing technologies and digital devices. Your online identity could become a challenge in the event that you pass away or if you become incapacitated and can no longer access your accounts. Do family members know your usernames and passwords to pay your bills online or to access important documents and cherished photos you stored in the cloud or uploaded to social media? How will they know about accounts, such as insurance policies, that you manage online and for which federal law prohibits unauthorized users from accessing?
To prevent these challenges and grant loved ones easy access to your accounts and treasured assets stored online and in the cloud, individuals must address their digital assets in their estate plans. The first step involves taking an inventory of the entirety of your digital assets and online presence, including login information, passwords and answers to security challenges. Following is just a sampling of some of the accounts you should consider including in your digital asset plan:
Once you create a catalogue of digital assets, you may want to store the information in a safety deposit boxes or with a password-manager app, such as LastPass, and share those details with a personal representative you name and/or your estate-planning advisor. Never leave sensitive login information on paper or computers, where anyone could gain easy access. Similarly, you should never include your login information in your will, which could become public record upon your death. However, wills and other estate-planning documents should contain the names of personal representatives you authorize to access your digital assets along with explicit directions on how you want your personal representatives to continue managing your online accounts or taking steps to delete or deactivate them.
Social media platform Facebook makes this process easier by allowing its users to designate a “legacy contact” to manage their profiles, download photos and even post messages after their passing. Similarly, Google allows its users to name an Account Trustee they wish to share or delete their online presence, whereas Instagram provides family members with a way to memorialize deceased users’ accounts without actual being able to make changes to the account.
In addition, some states, such as Florida, have introduced laws that allow their resident to authorize a named fiduciary to act on their behalf to access, manage and control all of the personal and business-related digital property they leave behind after death. As a result, surviving spouses are able to continue paying bills, filing tax returns and managing a range of financial accounts without any interruption. State laws require custodians to act as fiduciaries, in the best interests of the deceased. They may be an individual’s personal representatives, guardians of property for minors or incapacitated persons, or trustees or administrators of an estate. Under the law, individuals may specify whether they grant the fiduciary the authority to access the complete contents of their digital assets or just a select few in order to maintain some sense of privacy.
Keeping estate plans updated with the rapid pace of technology is a requirement in our increasingly digital lives. Doing so will help to preserve one’s legacy online and off.
Provenance Wealth Advisors, 515 E. Las Olas Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301 (954) 712-8888.Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse the opinions or services of Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants. PWA is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services. Investment Advisory Services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc., and Provenance Wealth Advisors.
This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of PWA and not necessarily those of Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. There is no guarantee that these statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct.
Eric P. Zeitlin is a registered representative of and offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., Members FINRA/SIPC.
About the Author: Eric P. Zeitlin is managing director of Provenance Wealth Advisors, an Independent Registered Investment Advisor affiliated with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants, and a registered representative with Raymond James Financial Services. For more information, call (954) 712-8888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.