In our hyper-social world, we increasingly store and share our personally identifiable information online through a variety of social media outlets, cloud-computing technology and digital devices. Your online identity could create challenges when 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 catalog of your digital assets, you may want to store the information in a safety deposit box or with a password-manager app, such as LastPass. 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 representative to continue managing your online accounts or to delete or deactivate them.
Facebook makes this process easy by allowing users to designate a “legacy contact” to manage their profiles, download photos and even post messages after their passing. Similarly, Instagram provides family members with a way to either remove the account of a deceased user or to memorialize it without actually allowing any changes to be made to the decedent’s account.
Some states, such as Florida, have introduced laws allowing 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 can easily 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.
About the Author: Eric P. Zeitlin is managing director of Provenance Wealth Advisors, an Independent Registered Investment Advisor affiliated with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs and a registered representative with Raymond James Financial Services. For more information, call (954) 712-8888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Provenance Wealth Advisors, 515 E. Las Olas Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301 (954) 712-8888.
Eric P. Zeitlin is a registered representative of and offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., Members FINRA/SIPC.
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