Jul 272012

It is no secret that more and more of our daily lives are being carried on digitally.  Online bank and brokerage accounts, bill payments services, credit cards, and social networking accounts are just a few components of the modern digital estate.  While many people would agree that their digital assets have real value, not nearly as many are taking steps to ensure that the transition of their digital estate upon their passing is a smooth one.

So what are some things that can be done to remedy this problem?  A few examples include:

Record digital assets and access requirements.  Make a list of accounts, passwords, addresses of record, and website access instructions.  Be sure to pay close attention to all the steps which are necessary to access the account, as some accounts (often financial institutions) require additional safety measures, such as identification of a graphic image or answering of a personal question.

Determine the ultimate outcome.  Figure out what you want to happen to your digital assets when you die.  Will your Facebook account will become a memorial page or do you want it taken down immediately?  Should someone continue to post on your blog or will it be removed?  What about MMORPG accounts?  To some people, the lives they lead online are every bit as important as their lives in the real world.  If we think about it, most of us probably have ideas of what we would like to see happen to our digital accounts when we are gone.  These ideas should be discussed with loved ones and memorialized in writing.

Understand the legal terms. What happens to your e-books, music and movies?  Can they be transferred to another party or will the account be frozen and the data deleted?  Many websites have terms of service which may or may not deal with succession after death.  Where applicable, it is important to know and understand these terms and plan for them ahead of time.

Choose the right person to manage your digital estate.  The selection of fiduciaries in estate planning is often a straightforward process.  However, a parent, spouse, or child might not be able to deal with the unique issues that come with a digital estate.  Consider identifying someone to provide assistance or even handle these matters completely.  It certainly helps if the person is familiar with the technology that is involved.

Coordinate your estate plan.  Determine if your plan still makes sense once your digital estate is considered.  Consider putting your wishes into legal documents in order to give them the force of the law.

Digital assets are like any other piece of personal property that one can own.  They may be bought, sold, and planned for legally.  Contact a Florida estate planning attorney if you would like to learn more.