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What is digital estate planning?

On Behalf of | Feb 5, 2024 | Estate Planning |

Digital estate planning is an increasingly important process that involves organizing and making arrangements for the management and disposal of one’s digital assets in the event of incapacitation or death. 

As more American adults interact with the world in a variety of ways online, the range of assets that many adults own that exist solely in digital form has expanded significantly. These assets can include social media accounts, online banking and investment accounts, digital currencies, email accounts, digital photos, music, videos, domain names and even online gaming accounts. Digital estate planning helps to ensure that these assets are identified, accessed and handled according to one’s wishes after death or if one becomes unable to manage them.

Getting started

The primary challenge associated with digital assets, unlike physical ones, is that they often require passwords or other forms of secure access, and laws governing their transferability and accessibility after death vary widely and are still evolving. Without proper planning, these assets may become inaccessible, be lost or even deleted after a period of inactivity, leading to potential loss of value or sentimental keepsakes.

Therefore, the first step in creating a digital estate plan involves making a comprehensive list of all digital assets, including accounts, passwords, security questions and answers, and any other necessary information to access them. The creator can then designate a trusted individual to serve as their digital executor. This person will be responsible for managing and executing the creator’s wishes regarding their digital assets upon incapacitation or death. 

It’s also important to clearly outline instructions for how each digital asset should be handled. This might include deletion, transfer to a particular individual or archiving of certain information. And, it is finally important to keep in mind that different online platforms and service providers have varied policies for handling accounts after an owner’s death. Reviewing these policies to understand what options are available, such as account deletion, memorialization or transfer of data is, therefore, important as well. 

It is generally a good idea to incorporate digital estate planning into a broader estate plan, and to seek legal guidance to better ensure that it complies with relevant laws and regulations. This effort can help to safeguard a creator’s interests no matter what may come.