In the digital age, where most of our lives are centered around technology, smartphones, and other electronic devices, digital legacy is becoming a central concept in estate planning. Here we’re discussing ways to protect your digital assets and provide a digital legacy for your family and loved ones if you become incapacitated or pass away.
What is a digital legacy?
While there is no official definition for the term digital legacy, the concept is simple – it includes everything we leave behind after we die that is stored and transferred in digital space. Some common digital assets include social media accounts, photos and videos saved to cloud storage, personal and business email accounts, digital financial assets such as payment tokens, and digital intellectual property such as copyrighted digital content, registered trademarks, and software programs.
These are just a few examples of digital assets you may have. You likely have additional digital accounts and assets that will be left behind when you pass away.
Why do I need to integrate a digital legacy into my estate plan?
A modern estate plan should include provisions for your digital assets. After all, these are things you own that have value, even if the value doesn’t equal a dollar amount. Additionally, legislation is somewhat behind when it comes to new trends of the digital age, and the laws concerning digital assets are no exception.
Even if your life is organized and you have a plan in place for when you die, most people who use the internet are active on the internet daily in some form. Many activities include opening new accounts and subscribing to services such as video streaming apps and other paid subscriptions. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for your family or loved ones to manage and cancel your subscriptions or access items such as personal photos if you were to become incapacitated or pass away suddenly? It would be difficult for them to navigate the digital legacy you left behind.
How to create and incorporate your digital legacy wishes into your estate plan
First and foremost, it is imperative to have an estate planning attorney, financial planning professional, or other trusted estate or financial advisor. These professionals know the estate planning laws and legislature in your state. They can help you create an efficient and meaningful estate plan to include your digital assets that will go into effect when you pass away.
A few other things to do to establish your digital legacy wishes include:
- Catalog your digital assets and electronic devices
- Make a complete inventory list of your online accounts, including the login credentials used to access them
- Designate your beneficiaries, trustees, and legacy contacts
- Create instructions for handling your digital legacy
- Plan to reassess your digital legacy
What is a digital legacy contact?
A digital legacy contact is someone that you designate to take ownership of and grant access to your private digital assets after your death. It is someone you should designate in your will and estate plan, but also to each digital platform that has a legacy contact.
Many social media platforms have the option in your account settings to add someone as a legacy contact, namely Facebook, whereas some platforms do not. For example, Twitter’s rules state that you can request your Twitter account to be deactivated if you have provisions in your will. Twitter will not grant access to anyone other than the account owner, even if it is listed in a will. This is an excellent example of why you need to list an inventory of your digital accounts and login credentials as part of your estate plan, making it easier for your loved ones to handle your digital affairs after you die.
Earlier this year, Apple implemented the Apple Digital Legacy program that allows users of Apple products (iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Apple TV, or HomePod) to name a person to request access to your iCloud account and data with a unique access key. Your Apple Legacy Contact can be anyone you select as “next of kin” to your Apple ID account. You can name anyone as your Apple Legacy Contact, and they do not have to be someone who owns an Apple device. Additionally, you can name multiple Apple Legacy Contacts. They will need a death certificate alongside their unique key to access your data. The Apple Legacy Contact program grants the Legacy Contacts of your choosing to access your iCloud account and data for three years after the first Legacy Contact account request is approved. After three years, Apple will permanently delete the account. Each Legacy Contact you name that confirms their information and is granted access will have the power to make decisions about your account data, including permanently deleting it.
Apple’s Digital Legacy Program is accessible to all iCloud users at no cost. Data that is available to a Legacy Contact through Apple includes the following: iCloud photos, notes, mail, contacts, calendars, reminders, messages saved in iCloud, call history, files in the iCloud drive, health data, voice memos, Safari bookmarks, and reading list, and iCloud backup. The only downfall to Apple’s Legacy Contact programs is that your legacy contacts can only access data you stored in the iCloud. Any data stored on your phone or other devices will not be available to the legacy user unless they have access to your physical device. You can learn more about it by visiting Apple’s Digital Legacy Program support page.
The purpose of having a digital legacy plan in place is to save your loved ones from the inconvenience that comes with getting a court order or going to probate if you don’t have a will or estate plan in place. If you don’t already have a digital legacy plan integrated into your current estate plan, be sure to contact your wealth advisor or estate planning professional to get started.
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