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What are digital assets? First, let's define digital assets. These include your online financial accounts, your personal e-mail accounts, and your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. The assets may or may not have a value. For example, you might own a domain name for your small business, which would have value, but the photos you uploaded to Shutterfly have sentimental value only.
“Digital assets” are any digital record that you own or have control over. This includes email accounts, blogs, social media accounts, financial accounts, digital files (music, photos, movies), apps, or any other online or digital account or file. Your access to these accounts or files is usually limited by the “terms of service agreement” (TOSA) that you agreed to when creating an account or buying or licensing a product online. TOSAs usually dictate what happens to your account when you die.
RUFADDA distinguishes “electronic communications” as a type of digital assets that requires stronger privacy protections. Electronic communications are communications between private parties via email, text messages, instant messages, or other private service. A communication sent to a limited group of people would be subject to the stronger protections, but public communication would not. Under RUFADAA, you must give explicit permission for your personal representative to have access to your electronic communications.
So what can you do now to start organizing your digital assets?
Decide how you want your online life handled after your death. Facebook, for example, allows a personal administrator or immediate family member to close the account or "memorialize" it. This may help ease your loved ones' pain during a time of grief. Consider creating instructions for a family member to do this, or something similar, on your social media accounts. You may assign different roles to different people. For example, you may decide to appoint one person as your executor and another to have access to certain social media accounts.
Create a comprehensive inventory of your digital assets. Be sure to store this inventory somewhere other than an e-mail account. Some e-mail providers, like Yahoo!, will close an account that has been inactive for several months and delete the e-mail history. Even if an executor promptly contacts the e-mail provider, he or she may not be able to copy important e-mails or contact lists before the account is deactivated. Back up important information elsewhere and update it regularly.
Don't assume your digital estate has no value. Some frequent flyer points are transferable after your death. Credit cards with cash-back feature stores are generally redeemable after your death, but only if they are claimed. Internet domain names are potentially sellable, and blogs are a form of intellectual property.
Consider investing in a password manager. Sites such as LastPass and Dashlane maintain a record of your online accounts and passwords in a digital safe. You can set them up to transfer the passwords to your representative at a specific event, such as your death or incapacity.
How can you ensure that fiduciaries and family members have access to your assets?
Ask your attorney about inserting provisions into your will that grant your executor the authority to access your non-financial digital assets and accounts.
Talk to your attorney about adding language to grant your power-of-attorney agent authority to act on your behalf with your digital accounts and assets.
If you have assets in a trust, ask your attorney about the possibility of amending the trust agreement with language that will allow the trustee access to digital assets and accounts. Check online service providers' policies on death or disability. Each provider has its own access-authorization tools, and the terms vary, so be sure you understand who can and can't access information. If the provider allows access to your executor, trustee, or power-of-attorney agent, inform these individuals where important information is stored.