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Planning for Digital Assets as Part of Estate Planning

Few of us plan our legacy for when we’ve died and how we’ll live on in the lives of others.

As technology continues to advance and we are increasingly living more of our lives online, it’s time to think about what our digital legacy will be, says The Scotsman in the article The ghost in the machine—what will happen to online you after death?” In our increasingly digital world, we’ve shared the news almost immediately when a celebrity dies, grieved when our online friends die and been touched by stories of people online who we have never met in RL — Real Life.

Most of us have digital assets and online accounts. It’s time to think about what will happen to them when we die.

Estate planning attorneys are now talking with clients about their digital assets and leaving specific instructions about what to do with these online accounts and social media, after they pass.

There’s a trend of creating video messages to loved ones and posting them online for the family to see after they pass. Facebook has a feature that allows the page owner to set a legacy contact to manage the account, after the account owner has died. Other technologies are emerging to allow you to gather your digital assets and assign an individual or individuals to manage them after you die.

It is now just as important to think about what you want to happen to your digital assets, as it is to your tangible, earth-bound assets when you die. What’s also important: considering what you want to happen to your data, how accessible and enduring you want it to be and how it will be protected.

People in their older years have seen amazing leaps and changes in technologies. We’ve moved from transistor radios to VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray. We’ve gone from land line home phones to smart phones that have the same computing power or more than a desktop. The first social media site was launched in 1997, and websites like Myspace have come and gone.

Will the current websites and software still be available and commonly used in five, ten, fifty, or one hundred years? It’s impossible to know what the world will look like then. However, unless a plan is made for digital legacies, it’s unlikely that your digital legacy will be accessible to others in the near and far future.

Here’s the problem: even if your executor does succeed in memorializing your Facebook page, will there be things on the page that you don’t want anyone to see after you’ve gone? There’s a wealth of data on social media to sift through, including items you may not want to be part of your digital legacy.

Consider the comparison to people who lived during previous ages. We may not be able to see their lives online, but they have left behind physical artifacts—letters, diaries, photographs—that we can hold in our hands and that tell us their stories. These artifacts will survive through the generations.

A digital estate plan can ensure that your data is managed by someone you trust. Talk with your estate planning attorney to learn how to put such a plan in place, when you are creating your legacy. Your last will and testament is a starting point in today’s digital world.

Reference: The Scotsman (May 16, 2019) The ghost in the machine—what will happen to online you after death?”

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