In today’s digital age, more and more photos, letters, and financial accounts, which were once stored in drawers, file cabinets, and safes, are now often saved in the cloud or on hard drives. As a result, the importance of including digital assets in estate planning becomes apparent. Similar to our tangible assets, if our digital assets are not effectively planned for, they might be lost, inaccessible, or misused after we have passed away.
When it comes to protecting your digital assets, it is crucial to prioritize security and stay informed about potential risks. Digital assets, such as personal data, online accounts, and digital files, are increasingly valuable and vulnerable to threats like hacking, phishing, and unauthorized access. To safeguard these assets, it is crucial to use strong, unique passwords for each account and enable two-factor authentication wherever possible. Regularly updating software and operating systems helps highlight security vulnerabilities. Being cautious about sharing personal information online can also minimize the risk of identity theft. Being vigilant and proactive about digital security is key to protecting your valuable digital assets in today’s interconnected world.
Protecting your digital assets in the context of estate planning in Pennsylvania involves several key steps.
Understanding What Your Digital Assets Are
Digital assets can be broadly classified into:
- Financial Assets: This includes online banking, investments, retirement accounts, cryptocurrencies, online payment services like PayPal, and any other financial instruments or platforms that operate digitally.
- Social Media and Email: Accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and email services like Gmail or Outlook.
- Digital Collections: eBooks, digital music, movies, and other online collections.
- Personal Data: Photos, videos, blogs, backup files, and other personal documents stored digitally.
- Business Assets: Websites, domains, blogs, online stores, affiliate accounts, and other online business resources.
- Online memberships or subscriptions.
- Digital rights: Items such as copyrights, trademarks, and patents.
- Any other digital property or presence.
Tips on How to Protect Your Assets
- Inventory Your Digital Assets: Make a comprehensive list of your digital assets, including login credentials. This list should be kept secure and updated regularly. It is essential to be comprehensive. Even assets that might not seem valuable, such as personal photos, may hold sentimental value for your loved ones.
- Appoint a Digital Executor: Designate someone you trust as your digital executor in your will or estate plan. This person will be responsible for managing your digital assets according to your wishes after your death.
- Provide Access Instructions: Ensure that your digital executor or another trusted person has the necessary information to access your digital assets. This can include the following:
- Security questions and answers
- PIN numbers
- Two-factor authentication methods
- Inform Key People: Let trusted family members or friends know you have a digital estate plan in place. They do not need to know all the details, but knowing of its existence can be crucial.
- Understand the Terms of Service Agreements: Each digital platform has its own terms of service, which may affect how your digital assets can be handled after your death. It is important to understand these terms for each platform you use. Some platforms (for example, Google or Facebook) have specific policies or tools, like Google’s Inactive Account Manager or Facebook’s Legacy Contact, designed to address account management after death. Be aware of these features and incorporate them into your planning.
- Understand Pennsylvania Laws as Well as Federal Laws: The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) is a framework that has been adopted by many states, including Pennsylvania. It provides guidelines on how fiduciaries can access and manage digital assets. On July 23, 2020, Governor Wolf signed Act 72 of 2020, the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (Act 72). Act 72 provides fiduciaries (such as executors, guardians, trustees, and agents under powers of attorneys) with legal authority to manage the digital assets of deceased or incapacitated individuals. It also provides a statutory procedure for custodians of digital assets and electronic communications to safely follow to disclose an individual’s digital assets and electronic communications to these fiduciaries.
- Regular Updates: As your digital asset portfolio changes, so should your estate plan. Regularly review and update your plan to reflect new accounts or assets.
- Consider Privacy and Security: When planning for your digital assets, consider the privacy and security implications of sharing access to your accounts. It is important to balance the need for accessibility with the need to keep your information secure.
- Legal Documents: It is important to consult with a local attorney who is knowledgeable about these laws to ensure your plan complies with state regulations, and that your digital assets are properly safeguarded. This may include adding specific provisions in your will, creating a digital asset trust, or drafting a separate digital estate plan.
The legacy we leave behind is no longer solely physical. Our digital memories, assets, and connections form a significant part of who we are. As such, ensuring the protection and appropriate management of our digital assets after our passing represents a gesture of care to those we leave behind. Taking proactive steps now will prevent potential complications and provide clarity and access to the treasures and tools of our digital lives. An attorney who focuses on this area can help you sort through the complexities and ensure that your wishes are honored. Our firm can assist you in safely documenting and enforcing your wishes regarding your digital assets. If you need assistance with your estate plan, contact Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace today to schedule an initial consultation.