Remember the days when IP—Intellectual Property—was the exclusive domain of patent attorneys, computer science majors, successful authors, and professional photographers and artists? Well, times have changed, because whether you know it or not, you’re very likely a player in the IP space…today’s world of ones and zeros (i.e. binary code, if you’re not up on the lingo).
This IS Relevant to Planning Your Estate
Before you conclude that we’re about to embark on some platitude about how technology is leaving us all in the dust (we’re not going to do that), take a moment to think about your current digital footprint. In what ways are you out there on the internet?
- Email accounts? Cloud storage (Flickr, iCloud, Amazon Cloud, Google Docs)?
- PayPal? Online bank accounts? Online recurring subscriptions?
- Websites, domain names, blogs?
Unless your head’s been buried in the sand for the last ten years, it’s likely that you have at least some of the above-named assets.
Increased Online Storage
One of the most important functions of any estate plan is an instructional letter that advises your loved ones on where they can find critically important documents—Last Wills, Trust Agreements, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxies, and financial instruments.
Increasingly, these sorts of documents are being stored online. Make things easy on your loved ones. Even if your critically important estate planning documents aren’t stored online, your loved ones will still need to access your digital life once you’ve exited the real world.
The first step in making life easy on your loved ones is to list your digital assets. Be careful . . . some assets might belong to your business (if you have one), so take care in discriminating who owns what (e.g. internet domain names). It can be a lot to sort through, but you’re the best person for the job. Nobody knows what you have better than you.
Understand the Fine Print
The terms of service for online providers differ markedly. Take the time to understand what you’re getting into when you sign up for a service. For example, when a person dies, his or her Facebook page is “memorialized.” That means it can’t be accessed or altered by anyone. Make sure you’re okay with that, and remember that whatever you write will be on the web . . . potentially forever.
Be Clear on Your Wishes
Clearly communicate to your attorney or to someone that you intimately trust (i) what you have, and (ii) what you want to have done with it. If you’ve stored passwords to email accounts that you want someone to be able to access, make sure you leave a clear record. Otherwise, your loved ones might be locked out of your accounts (e.g. Facebook, as described above).
You just don’t want to leave your digital footprint to chance. Take the time to decide how you want your digital legacy handled, and then put a system in place to make sure it happens according to plan.
It’s A New Ballgame
Dealing with the issue of digital assets, not to mention hard assets like real estate, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, precious metals, business interests, etc., can be really stressful if you don’t know what you’re doing. Luckily, we’re here to support you, and we’re old pros at dealing with these issues. Digital legacies might be a new ballgame, but they adhere to the tried and true rules of estate planning, so we can help you handle these issues without a hiccup.