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How Will You Pass Down Digital Assets in Your Estate Plan?


If you’ve ever had the job of acting as an executor for someone who has died, you may have had to do some digging through desk drawers, hope chests and closets to find out exactly what assets your loved one left behind. Organized estate planning aims to combat that kind of scavenger hunt, but in an increasingly digital world, those who make plans for their own estate are being required to shift their approach.

Consider all of the ways you currently access your bank statements, retirement accounts and most of your other assets. Chances are good that you’ve streamlined many of those records into online accounts. Even more personal assets are catalogued on the Internet these days. Your digital pictures are on a photo sharing website. Your music collection may be on iTunes. Even your Facebook account can be considered an asset.

Most of these accounts require a password for access. Even if they aren’t on the Internet, chances are good they’re stored on a computer that can’t be unlocked without a code of some kind. So how do you make sure that your online presence in this world is properly handled after you’re gone?

First, you need to decide what you want done with these accounts. Do you want your Facebook account shut down or to live on as a sort of memorial? Just as your grandmother saved all those letters from your grandfather when he was serving overseas, perhaps there’s someone to whom you want to pass along all of your memorable email messages. Make a note of how you want to handle each online account you have, whether it’s sentimental, financial or otherwise valuable to you.

You’ll then need to name an executor. This could be the same person who handles the rest of your estate, but you should make sure he or she is tech-savvy and comfortable enough with this data to handle it. If not, you can always name a separate, “digital executor” to handle your cyber affairs. Once you name someone, be very clear, preferably both verbally and in writing, how you want your wishes carried out. And be sure to keep a list of passwords that your executor can access when the time comes.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Passing Down Your Facebook Account,” Kelly Greene, Aug. 31, 2012

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