Digital Assets

What’s Happens to Digital Assets After You Pass Away?

We all have many more digital assets than we realize. What happens to those assets after you pass away?, asks Investment News in the article “4 ways to help clients control their digital afterlife.” The answer is not that simple. There are a large number of rules that survivors have to untangle, and many family members are stunned, when they find that not only don’t they have access to these accounts, but the data in the accounts may be deleted permanently, when they try unsuccessfully to log in too many times.

what happens to digital assets after you pass away
Keeping a list of all your user names and passwords with your estate planning documents is a big help.

Almost all states have passed the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), and experts are gaining a better understanding of how this law works and what happens to digital assets after you pass away.

Start by creating a complete inventory of all digital assets. Try using these categories:

  • Communication: email, contacts, login for phone
  • Rewards programs: hotels, airlines, restaurants
  • Shopping: eBay, Craig’s List, Amazon, department stores
  • Online storage sites: iCloud, data backup sites
  • Finances: online payments, banking, investment accounts, cryptocurrency
  • Social media: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Snap Chat, WhatsApp
  • Gaming sites and fantasy leagues—especially if there is real money involved.

Make sure you include a list of all these digital asset with your other estate planning documents.

In a separate document (or in the will itself), you can list your wishes for each and every digital asset. Do you want your social media sites memorialized or do you want them shut down? Who gets your airline frequent flier miles? Who should have access to emails, taxes and social media sites? Where should pictures go?

It may be easier to use one of several available services that generate secure passwords for each site and store the passwords and usernames. Using provisions for denial of access until death, the named digital fiduciary should have the master password to that service, plus instructions for any two-factor authentication. Remember that your will becomes a public document upon your death, so don’t put any passwords in that document.

Reference: Investment News (Oct. 22, 2019) “4 ways to help clients control their digital afterlife”

Avoid These Three Big Estate Planning Mistakes

The Street lists the “3 Worst Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.” These are issues that frequently derail an estate plan:

Lack of Information. Unwinding the various pieces of your estate can be a monumental task. Some folks leave this all to chance. They fail to leave their personal representative and loved ones with a complete and updated list of where everything is located and how to get to it.

Think about all the assets you’ve accumulated in a lifetime: real property, brokerage accounts, bank accounts, mutual fund holdings, IRAs, pensions and others. They’re hopefully all protected by a host of user names and passwords and maybe even by the answers to questions, like your first pet’s name.

While things like insurance policies are likely online, some of your holdings are not available electronically. In addition, other possessions are totally digital, and you should guard against cyber-theft and hacking. Create a list of all your user names and passwords for investment accounts and other financial holdings.

Beneficiary Designations Issues. It’s not uncommon for people to forget that they’re required to name beneficiaries for their retirement accounts, annuity contracts and insurance policies. Messing this up is a guarantee that your assets will wind up in probate. It can be an expensive and time-consuming legal process, where your wishes may be disregarded.

Outdated Plans. Sometimes, decades pass after estate documents are signed and put away. In the meantime, divorces and other life events happen, radically impacting the original estate planning objectives. In addition, changes in tax laws might impact your initial intentions. It’s smart to periodically review what is in your will and your beneficiary designations.

Reference: The Street (November 29, 2018) “3 Worst Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them”

One Dozen Must-Have Documents

To make sure that your wishes are carried out, you’ll have to do your homework. Make sure that you cover these most important documents.

The last thing you want to do, is leave a bureaucratic mess for your loved ones when you die. Not only will it cause the family stress during a difficult time, it could change how your family thinks of you. That should be more than enough reason to get this done in advance!

MP900398819US News & World Report’s recent article, “12 Documents to Prepare Now for Your Heirs,” says that when people don't have their paperwork ready, it can be a huge headache for the family. A family can be left with all kinds of paperwork to sort out while dealing with grief. Even worse, heirs may forfeit life insurance proceeds and tax deductions or overlook accounts they don't know exist. That's why it's critical to have important documents ready for loved ones. Here are the documents you should start preparing right away:

A will. This is a legal document in which you name an executor to carry out your wishes, heirs to receive your assets and a guardian if you have minor children.

A letter of explanation. Your will stipulates how assets are to be divided. However, a letter of explanation can provide the reasons for these decisions. This can be helpful, if the estate is to be divided unevenly between children.

List of financial accounts and beneficiaries. Keep a list of all your finances, such as bank and retirement accounts and brokerage funds. Each may have a designated beneficiary or transfer on death provision, known as a TOD. A person who’s named as a beneficiary or TOD designee automatically will receive ownership of the asset after you die. Make sure you keep these beneficiary designations up-to-date.

Personal inventory. Most wills distribute personal property in vague terms, like designating jewelry to one person and household goods to another. To be certain that nothing significant is overlooked, create an inventory of personal items. This inventory can also list items that may be stored in another location, unbeknownst to your family.

Power of attorney. This form is an important document for your family, if you become incapacitated because of an illness or accident. A power of attorney allows a designated person to make decisions on your behalf. One form is for financial decisions, and another is for health care.

Life insurance policies. Your family can miss significant life insurance benefits, if they don't know you have a policy, or it’s been lost or misplaced. Keep records of your life insurance plans and place it with your financial records.

Real estate records. Add deeds, assessments, mortgage statements and property tax information to the documents you've prepared for your heirs. Collecting the records for them in advance will make their lives easier.

Tax returns. List the name of your CPA or tax preparer, if you have your taxes professionally done. He or she can help your family with filing final tax returns for your estate. If you file your own returns, print a copy for your files and record any login information for online tax preparation services.

Logins for accounts. Create a list of your usernames and passwords for financial accounts, email, and social media and keep it where heirs can access the information.

A digital estate plan. Some states recognize digital estate plans as legally binding. However, even if it isn’t, it can be a great resource for your family. A digital estate plan states what will happen to your digital assets, like your social media accounts, websites, digital photos, intellectual property and other files and documents. Within your plan, you can name a digital executor and list those you've named as legacy contacts on specific platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.

An ethical will. This letter describes what you'd like remembered as your legacy, such as passing down values. An ethical will can be used to share memories or to impart wisdom.

Your final wishes. If you've made prearrangements for your funeral or cremation, place that information with your will and other end-of-life documents. Your final wishes should also include information about organ donation, pet care and who should be notified of your passing.

Distilling a lifetime into a dozen documents is not an easy task, but it is necessary. Your loved ones will appreciate your doing the heavy lifting, and it will give them the room they need to grieve their loss.

Reference: US News & World Report (October 4, 2018) “12 Documents to Prepare Now for Your Heirs”

Why Digital Assets Need to be Included in Your Estate Plan

Your digital assets are just as vulnerable as any other property—maybe more so!

You wouldn’t leave your checkbook at a coffee shop for anyone to see.  However, your digital assets are just as vulnerable as any other property—maybe more so!

MP900442500We all have an online digital life, some of us way more than others. Almost 25% of all Americans told surveyors from the Pew Research Center that they are almost constantly online. More than 75% of Americans are online at least once a day. The internet is an integral part of our daily lives.

As more and more of our personal and financial data is stored online, Forbes’ recent article advises us: “You Should Have An Estate Plan For Your Facebook Account.”

While the internet makes our lives much easier and everything is available with a mouse click, there are also some real issues for those who need to retrieve our digital assets after we’re gone. Digital assets include things like your personal e-mail accounts, online bank and brokerage accounts, frequent flier miles and social media websites. These may not seem like they have much value, but the value is in the vital data they contain—or the sentimental value of photos that are no longer kept in hard copy.

You should make special arrangements for your digital assets in advance. This allows the executor of your will to have access to this information. Provide the passwords of your computer and back-up hard drives to your executor, if you’re storing your documents this way. If you’re storing your documents in the cloud, be sure that your executor has access to these accounts.

Even if you provide your usernames and passwords to your executor or a family member, he or she may have issues with the vendor service agreement that denies him or her the ability to access, manage, distribute, copy, delete or even close accounts.

There’s a new statute, the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) that addresses whether and how a family member, executor, attorney-in-fact or trustee can access digital assets. Many states have introduced or adopted RUFADAA. This law is different from state laws governing estate administration, powers of attorney, and trusts. It doesn’t presume that family members and fiduciaries can access digital assets because of their relationship with the account owner. The statute requires express authorization, before anyone is allowed to access the content of a digital asset.

It is possible to invest in a password manager, which maintains a record of your online accounts and passwords in a digital vault. These accounts can be set up in advance to provide access to a representative at a specific event, like your death or incapacity.

Make a list of your digital assets and store it in a location where your personal representative can access it. Talk to your estate planning attorney about adding language to your will that grants your executor the authority to access your non-financial digital assets and accounts. You can also ask him or her about adding terms to your power-of-attorney documents that will grant your POA agent authority to act on your behalf with your digital accounts and assets. If you have assets in a trust, consider amending the trust agreement with language that will let the trustee access digital assets and accounts.

Make it easier for your heirs. Review the procedures for each of your accounts to find out what their policies are for owners, who become disabled or die. Have your estate planning attorney include all the necessary information in your documents and be sure that it matches the requested info from the account platforms, whether they are simple social media platforms or bank-security level financial portals.

Reference: Forbes (June 3, 2018) “You Should Have An Estate Plan For Your Facebook Account”

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