Your Family Will Inherit Your House — But What About Your Digital Assets?

by Miranda Marquit · 3 comments

When many of us think about estate planning, we think of things like wills and trusts. If we’re really serious, we think about powers of attorney. Digital assets, however, are often overlooked.

At first, you might think you don’t have any digital assets that matter. However, as Jean Gordon Carter, an estate planning attorney with Hunton & Williams points out, you probably do have digital assets that you care about.

Think about it: What happens with your social media accounts when you die? What about your digital music collection? Your images? The passwords for account access at all your financial institutions?

If these are important to you, you’ll want to keep reading for information on how to pass on your digital assets.

Why You Need to Consider Digital Assets

One of the hardest things for many people to understand is ownership of accounts. In fact, it’s an issue that hasn’t even been resolved in any meaningful way. Who has the right to access your email account if you die? When you pass on, can someone else take over your Facebook account? This is an important question, since Carter points out that 30 million Facebook accounts belong to dead people.

The biggest problem is actually access. If your loved ones don’t know your passwords, they might not be able to access your accounts. There are stories of survivors unable to get access to the social media, email, and financial accounts of the deceased, because they don’t have the proper passwords and identification. In some cases, there are court cases in which the survivors are suing companies like Yahoo for access to the accounts of dead loved ones.

How to Pass On Your Digital Assets

This means that you need to plan for passing your digital assets. Whether it’s providing access to your iTunes library, or letting others know how to access your investment account, it’s important to provide the passwords.

“The average individual has 25 passwords,” says Carter. “Adding to the complexity, Federal laws such as the Stored Communications Act, prevent service providers like Google and Yahoo from sharing a person’s information, even if permission is included in a will.”

Rather than leaving it to chance, it makes sense to provide passwords to loved ones. You can make a list of your accounts, and their login information, and store the list in a safe place with your will. That way, it’s possible for your survivors to access and manage your accounts. Many people like to think that their social media accounts will remain open as a sort of memorial where others can share their thoughts.

Carter says that legislation is being developed to allow access to digital assets. However, it could be years before such an act is in place. That means you need to do what you can to ensure your digital assets are passed on as you want them to be.

Consolidate your digital assets, list them, and make sure your loved ones know where to find the passwords.

Have you compiled a list of passwords as part of your will? Will you?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

ChrisCD December 24, 2013 at 7:40 am

I have a pad of paper where I keep my passwords. I just re-did it since the other one was looking ragged. However, I didn’t actually list the URLs just things like MyBank and Adsense. I should probably go back and make it a little more complete.

cd :O)

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Retire By 40 December 24, 2013 at 9:23 am

I made a list of password for my financial accounts and put it with my will. My other passwords are somewhere else. I’ll let the family know where. I don’t think they’ll care much about facebook. Email account probably need to be close out.

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Ruth Cooke December 26, 2013 at 9:33 am

Really thoughtful post, on a subject I hadn’t thought about a great deal. Thank you! You can bet I’ll be on this in the next couple of months.

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