Does Your Estate Plan Include Your Digital Assets?


Can you imagine a world without smartphones? Without the internet? Maybe you don’t have to imagine it, you can just remember how things used to be. For better or worse, smartphones and the internet are here to stay, and “about a quarter of U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online,” according to a Pew Research Center study. The same study found that approximately 77% of Americans go online every day.

The internet and technology have changed more than how we get our news. As we move more of our lives online, our personal and financial data follow. In a recent article, “You Should Have An Estate Plan For Your Facebook Account,” Forbes set out some of the estate planning ramifications of the fully-fledged digital age.

Estate planning can help. If you provide your usernames and passwords to your executor or a trusted relative, they may be able to get in – so long as terms of service let them.

A new statute, adopted in many states, helps family members, attorneys-in-fact, trustees, or executors to access digital assets and accounts. It’s called the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), and it takes a slightly different approach from previous digital access estate planning. Under RUFADAA, if an individual provides express authorization for family members or fiduciaries, then they can access digital assets because of their relationship with the account owner.

A federal acronym isn’t the only option. First, an analog approach. You can make a list of digital accounts and store it where an executor or trusted family member can access it and knows where to find it. (Storing your accounts and passwords on paper is not recommended for security reasons and because to be secure, passwords need to change over time.) An estate planning attorney can add language to your will that gives your executor the power to access your non-financial digital accounts. A trust can be amended similarly to give access to the trustee. With a list, your executor will know who to contact about digital access.

Second, and in addition to the first, you can set up a password manager. These utilities allow you to use a single highly secure password to access a “key-ring” of your other passwords and to safely store those other passwords in a digital vault. Setting up a password manager makes access easier for a personal representative, and it shores up your digital defenses.

In addition, check the policies of your providers for online digital assets and accounts to see if they consider the death or disability of the account holder. Often they have set procedures. Estate planning documents can include instructions for those procedures ahead of time, to make sure that when you pass, your information isn’t left locked away.

Reference: Forbes (June 3, 2018) “You Should Have An Estate Plan For Your Facebook Account”