Digital Assets: Are YOU Protected?
Do you have a plan for what happens to the things you own when you die? Does that include your “digital assets?”
Whether you realize it or not, you have an estate. In layman’s terms, an estate is your net worth – dead or alive. If you own it, it’s in your estate. Uncle Sam wants to tax you on it and other people just want to have your things (maybe not the debt). If you look at the assets in your estate, do you have a plan for each of them if you die tomorrow? It’s likely your real estate would go to your spouse if the title is joint. It’s likely your retirement accounts and insurance would go to your named beneficiaries.
What happens to the rest of your “stuff?” If you have drafted a will, you probably named someone to be your executor to make sure items pass along as you intended for. It is the executor’s job to find all of your assets and manage them until distributed to the proper beneficiaries. To start, the executor runs a net worth report and finds all of the assets on it to report to the accountant.
However, they aren’t done. There are digital assets lingering out there – accounts that we haven’t started to think to add to our wills until these last few years. And they do not show up on a net worth statement. They are called digital assets and they live in the cloud! Examples of a digital account are your PayPal account, your Gmail account and/or your eBay account. The assets are WITHIN those accounts, such as your emails, photos, music, texts, customer databases, health records, domain names, frequent flyer miles.
Every one of the providers of the accounts just mentioned has their own special terms to allow you to transfer the assets within them. Facebook just updated their terms to be more accommodating to the deceased, while PayPal and EBay have no policies regarding death – which means the accounts can live on FOREVER if not closed. This would allow a door to open for hackers to access these accounts and potentially follow them to the bank accounts that are attached to them!
Currently the federal government and the majority of states do not have any laws that govern how these assets should be passed to their rightful beneficiaries. It is up to the executor to search out each of the online accounts and try to shut them down. But the majority of the time, they lack the authorization that the provider is requesting.
This is why at CAISSA, we have been recommending to all of our clients to update their will with special language to give the authority to the executor to shut down their online presence. Until the federal or state governments come up with a uniform law, this is the best thing you can do.
- Add special language to your will to give authority to your executor to shut down your digital estate.
- Name your executor in your will very carefully; they have a very intense job that, if done incorrectly, could be very costly to your loved ones.
- Do not try to impersonate and log into an account with someone else’s password. This is fraud.