When you think about drafting your will, what valuable items immediately come to your mind?
Your house? Car? Financial savings?
What about your social media accounts, emails, or search history?
Experts say planning your ‘digital inheritance’ may have never crossed your mind, but its imperative you do it before you pass.
“When I’m doing estate planning and I ask questions about digital assets, I find that my clients are often a little surprised but very pleased to be asked about it,” said Andrew Higdon, senior associate and estate and trusts planning lawyer at KPMG Law LLP.
“There will be a moment of recognition where they’ll realize, ‘Oh, as a matter of fact, that is important to me.'”
Digital assets can be anything from your emails, private messages social media accounts, cloud storage, and photos to things like search histories, cryptocurrency, an online business, loyalty and reward programs, and even digital art.
With the increasing hold that digital technologies have on our lives, and the boom in cryptocurrency, the president of the Association for Media Literacy says the need to plan who gets access to your digital estate after you die has grown exponentially in recent years.
“This is something that I think has crept up on us, as so many things have in the electronic environment,” said Neil Andersen.
“I think it’s a looming problem as people, first of all, accrue a very large collection of electronic assets, and second of all, don’t leave instructions about how they might be disposed of after their death.”
Yes – that means planning your digital inheritance can include instructions on how to get rid of your assets, as opposed to just sharing them.
It may be hard to think of how to begin planning, so experts say a good start is listing all you digital assets, and thinking about which ones you want to pass on “regardless of whether they have large financial value.”
No – you don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg or Shakira to think about ensuring your digital assets. You don’t need to have an exceptionally large digital footprint or online presence, either, as Andersen says many individuals who seemed to be leading very “banal” lives were doing anything but.
Something as mundane as tax records, he says, ended up being an incredible resource for historians trying to piece together the past.
But if you’re still skeptical, maybe the dollar value will change your mind.
According to a Deloitte report published eight years ago, the average Canadian would have racked up $10,000 worth of digital assets by 2020. If they’re on the wealthier side? $50,000.
Now think about what would happen to all that money if you don’t leave someone in charge of it. (Hint: it will probably just sit there, collecting virtual dust.)
Which is why your next step, says Higdon, is to be extremely specific about who gets access to what, how they will handle the assets, and where you will leave all that info. (Another hint: probably best to leave sensitive info out of your will, says Andersen, as they are often made public.)
This brings us to social media accounts — which may not be as easy to pass on as they may seem.
While some sites like Facebook allow you to memorialize your account after your passing, it’s not the same as giving someone full access to your profile.
For that, you’d need to share the password, which is where things could get tricky.
Higdon says many social media sites have rules that prohibit sharing your password with anyone without the company’s permission, therefore reviewing the terms of service while you’re planning with a lawyer is a good idea.
But Andersen feels this calls for more policy revisions by social media companies to allow users more control of their digital assets after their passing.
So far, he says the the only movement his organization has seen on this issue has been by Apple, which is introducing a legacy contact option in its IOS 15.2 update fir iPhone and iPad OS15.2 beta
Individuals named as your legacy contacts can access part of your iCloud data after your passing with a security key. The key will only activate once Apple gets confirmation of your death, usually from a death certificate.
Just like you would with your brick-and-mortar estates, Higdon says you need to make sure your digital estate is up to date every three to five years.
But before you run off giving access to every single digital asset you own, Higdon and Andersen say think long and hard about the future privacy concerns you could face.
“It’s important to recognize that digital assets, unlike traditional property, have the potential to reveal all sorts of things about our lives. For that reason, a more focused approach needs to be taken. They need to be considered carefully as their own thing,” said Higdon.
After all, would you really want someone to have access to every single text message you’ve ever sent?