Estate planning should include your virtual self, too

Congratulations. You have a will that covers all of your tangible assets and lays out how you want things to be distributed in the event of your eventual death. That’s a step that too many people in Rochester and the rest of Minnesota fail to take. Very often what results is that loved ones are left in a lurch as to what to do. Friction builds and relationships can fracture.

Now, have you thought about estate planning for your digital assets? Ten years ago, the number of people accessing the internet and creating virtual selves through various social media platforms was pretty small. A lot has changed since then. Facebook used to be the domain of young millennials. Today their parents and even their grandparents are posting. Virtual realities are growing. What is going to happen to them after their owners are gone?

When we talk about digital assets we’re talking about everything from the emails you send every day to the music you listen to online. There are also the personal profiles you’ve created and which you add to with status updates. Each practice adds to your personal database on the internet, and studies suggest that most people don’t know what happens to that information after death.

There are some laws at the federal and state levels that make it illegal to access these assets without proper user authorization. But in most instances the laws were created before the advent of all the social networks and only apply to internet service providers like xfinity or CenturyLink.

Some digital media resource companies do allow individuals with proper authorization to manage or close accounts for others. The ones that do spell it out in their terms of service, but how many users actually read those before accepting?

So what do experts suggest you do? Here are some thoughts:

  • Clearly state in your will who will serve as a fiduciary to deal with your digital assets. Give that person current access information for each account.
  • Coordinate with your fiduciary in reviewing the terms of service for each account so you both know what can and can’t be done.
  • Let your attorney know what you have decided so it can be in the will and acted upon if it becomes necessary.

It’s all a matter of good planning.

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