You definitely need a plan to share passwords with your executor. If a digital asset is encrypted or protected by a strong password, the asset is effectively lost. Sharing passwords is a start, but it is not enough.
You may have multiple e-mail accounts, personal or family websites and blogs, domain names, important records, collections of digital photographs, a library of e-books and music, games, films, and online bank and brokerage accounts. To whom do these accounts belong? And how can they be passed on to heirs?
Dennis Kennedy wrote an article for the ABA webzine, Law Practice Today, entitled "Estate Planning for your Digital Estate." Kennedy presents a five step plan to help survivors deal with digital assets.
Make a written list of your hardware and software. This include desktop and laptop computers, discs, DVDs, external hard drives, smart phones, and flash memory.
List where you store your income tax files, Quicken files, and family genealogy. What programs do you use to post to blogs and websites? If you use online backup, you need to let your executor know your user name and password.
If your banking is paperless, a written inventory prepared by you might be the only way your executor even knows about the account. List all the payees who receive automatic payment from your credit cards and checking account so that another six months of health club payments don't get made. List all subscriptions and memberships.
Identify Appropriate Help
You name executors and trustees to manage your estates, but are they computer literate? You might want to add one more co-executor who knows about digital assets. A twenty-year-old you would never allow to handle large sums of money might be just the person you want to wind up your online presence.
With a large digital estate, you may want to ask whether or not the attorney for the estate is able to manage digital assets.
Stay tuned for Part II, next week.
- Patti Spencer