Less than twenty years ago, surviving family members could find everything to do with a deceased’s estate simply by going to the bank and the attorney. They might have even found a little hidden treasure under the bed.
I know when my cousin was cleaning out her mother’s home she found a treasured piece of family jewelry pinned into the pocket of an old bathrobe.
But times have changed and things aren’t so easy to find now that our reality includes a virtual world. People now talk about putting digital assets “in the cloud” and not a safety deposit box. What in the world does that mean when it comes to settling your estate, bills, and property? It means you need to leave a map of how to find your digital assets.
And what exactly are digital assets? They are any work or possessions stored on a computer and the Internet. That could include things like emails, photos, videos, medical records, tax documents, and account passwords. As more financial institutions encourage their customers to sign up for paperless statements and online bill payment, the list of your digital assets and their potential value continues to grow.
Digital assets are such a new phenomenon that most courts have not developed rules for how to distribute them when there are no instructions in the will. Even when there are clear instructions regarding digital accounts, there are other legal hurdles to consider. Privacy laws are so strict concerning online activity that nearly all social networking sites have policies in place for dealing with the death of account owners.
While I hope every adult will create a will to protect and provide for loved ones, a recent survey found a majority of Americans (61 percent) have just not gotten around to it. Even though the paperwork can feel daunting, we all know it’s something we need to do. Be sure to include a list of important account usernames and passwords along with a consent document giving permission for others to access online accounts.
Something else to consider is making a video legacy for your loved ones. In addition to passing along important information and instructions for your estate and last wishes, video can provide comfort and clarity to your loved ones. Although printed and notarized documents are essential, they don’t capture the tone of your voice or chuckle over a fond memory shared. Those things are priceless and are your loving legacy to family members for generations to come.Share