It is an increasingly relevant issue in modern estate planning: how to distribute (or otherwise deal with) one’s digital assets. And by “digital assets” we mean anything from pictures on your Facebook page to online investments and electronic banking.
In most cases, the primary issue is access, and this can be a costly issue indeed. Companies that store digital assets, including usernames and passwords, are generally not willing to provide access to an account to anyone other than the account holder. That means a spouse, adult child or executor may be denied access if the login information is not properly addressed in the deceased’s estate plan.
For example, we discussed a Canadian woman’s problem of not being able to use her deceased husband’s iPad. After the family contacted Apple, the situation escalated, and the family was on the verge of getting a court order. All of this could have been avoided, however, if the necessary login information had been conveyed prior to the death.
It isn’t difficult to imagine much higher stakes than loss of an iPad when you consider other valuable items such as digital business assets, online intellectual property and bank accounts.
Estate planners in Ontario are encouraged to create an inventory of their digital legacy and ensure that their estate plans address the distribution of digital assets. Your online login information need not be included in the will itself, but you can create a separate list of your digital assets, along with the corresponding passwords, to give to your executor.
If you already have an estate plan in place, then now is a good time to update it to include information about your digital legacy.
For more on these matters, please see our previous post, “Does your estate plan account for digital property?”