While the internet has become a huge part of our lives in the last few decades, our digital assets have still not made their way into common estate-planning practices.
“Your memories, your money or your online accounts,” author Sharon Hartung said. “The other aspect that’s happening is the executor job has completely changed.
“We no longer have a paper trail in our home office; it’s our email. So the executor’s job just got a whole lot more difficult.”
What are your digital assets?
Digital assets come in two general forms: things that exist online that have sentimental value and things that have financial value.
“Those are our loyalty points and our travel rewards,” Hartung said. “Some people may even have unregulated cryptocurrencies, they may have gaming tokens. And in the future, as crypocurrencies become regulated, we may have crypto-assets. And as the block chain starts to have consumer use cases, we might even have electronic wills on the block chain.”
“On the sentimental side, those are things like your family photos, perhaps your genealogy project… things you want to make sure you’ve left behind in some way.
“We used to have physical photo albums and now we have photos on our cameras and our cloud… So, a matter of pre-planning is considering things like family sharing now, while we’re alive, and then we don’t have to worry about making sure they get passed along.”
LISTEN BELOW: Sharon Hartung joins the 630 CHED Afternoon News
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Have an updated will
Hartung was faced with this issue when her mother passed away without a will. The challenges she faced and the checklists and tools she used to navigate the process are now published in her book, Your Digital Undertaker.
She says less than 50 per cent of Canadians have a will and only 35 per cent have an up-to-date will.
“My one piece of advice is go to a lawyer and get a will done.
“They can help you identify all the important things and assets in your life, who’s important to you that you want to take care of, and give you guidance on how to get that done properly, including your digital and non-digital lives.”
Include digital assets/accounts in your will
Hartung also suggests, if you already have a will, amend it to include your digital assets — everything from air miles to social media accounts.
“Most often, the easiest way to do that is to create an inventory, it could be on a piece of paper, where you write down your physical assets, such as your bank accounts and you write down your multi-media and social media and digital assets.
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“Consider the three most important digital assets you have,” Hartung suggests.
“For some, that’s their social media. For some, that’s their loyalty points because they’ve been saving for years to take their family on a trip, and for some, obviously, it might be cryptocurrencies, and those things need additional planning.”
Watch below (Jan. 21, 2019): Few people want to talk about their own death, but planning for it and having your estate in order is important. Sheri MacMillan from MacMillan Estate Planning shares advice.
Have a plan for your social media accounts
In order to make it easier for your loved ones to shut down or access your social media accounts in the case of your death, Hartung suggests making an itemized list of all the accounts you have.
“Technology is behind and the law is behind in making it easy to facilitate the actual physical transfer once they have the legal right [to access accounts] through the will.”
She would also like to see more internet companies create policies that address what happens to accounts when members pass away.
“There are very few companies today that allow pre-planning and I feel that consumers should be asking their software providers to provide this kind of pre-planning functionality,” Hartung points out.
“The two big ones out there you’ve probably heard of are Facebook — legacy contact — where you can set somebody up who will have access to your account after you pass. And Google’s inactive manager — where you can set a period of time after which [if] your account is not accessed, that someone would have access to those.”
Consider whether your executor is capable
If you have a significant online presence or conduct a lot of business online, you may want to consider who would manage that when you die.
“Related to social media is the plethora of accounts people have,” Hartung says. “Your executor is going to need to know exactly what you have because there will be no paper trail other than Googling your name and trying to figure out what you had access to. And then it will be with great difficulty getting access if you do not have a will that gives someone the right to gain access and transfer it.”
The importance of having a will
The job of managing your digital assets will fall to the executor of your will, unless someone else is explicit named, Hartung says.
“The question you need to ask as a will maker is: are they qualified to do that and what additional information will they need to do the job?
“Certainly, a lawyer, if you have very specific digital assets — say it’s part of your business — and you’d like somebody else to be involved because they have more technical skills, the lawyer can figure out how to incorporate that language in a will.”
Watch below (Sept. 24, 2018): What do you do if a loved one passes away and leaves behind unpaid debt? Grant Thornton licensed insolvency trustee Freida Richer has some advice for people who are the executor of a deceased person’s estate.
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