If your digital assets aren't included in an estate plan, your heirs might not know about that online stock account you have. They might not know you do all your banking online. Your digital assets could be lost forever.
In addition to your tangible assets, your digital assets should be included in your estate plan. In a 2011 survey that was sponsored by McAfee, the security technology company, Americans on average valued their digital assets at nearly $55,000. These digital assets may have emotional or sentimental value, such as a online family photos or a blog that an heir wants to keep as a memorial to the deceased.
These types of assets can also have monetary value. Examples include a business website that family members or employees intend to continue or an e-stock account. Other types of digital assets are e-mail accounts, social media accounts, music libraries, online documents, virtual currency accounts (e.g., Bitcoin), as well as online banking and commerce services.
A recent article in The Arizona Republic, titled "Estate plan should pass down digital heirlooms," warns that if your digital assets aren't included in your estate plan, then your loved ones might not know about them and could be lost forever.
The best way to protect your virtual assets, the article explains, is to include them in your will or trust and to designate a digital executor to handle them. Experts advise you to specifically grant your heirs access in those documents and keep a master list of the accounts and the accompanying passwords in a safe place like a safe deposit box. Note: Don't put the passwords in the will or estate plan, just instructions on how to locate them!
The original article cautions that just because you created an estate plan and a master list doesn't mean that your heirs will have easy access to your accounts; some user-service agreements and regulations could restrict their access.
The article notes that some digital-asset sites are starting to address the whole issue of allowing access by heirs. For instance, Google has the "Inactive Account Manager." This feature allows the account holder to determine what happens once the account is inactive for a certain period of time.
Experts believe that this is just the beginning-digital access issues will become even more important in the days to come.