When most people are ready to develop their estate plan, they want to develop a strong plan for the future and ensure that all of their assets and property go to the right people. Yet many times, they forget about the online assets they use each and every day. That’s because it’s easy to overlook just how much these assets are worth and what happens to these assets when you go. For one thing, there’s the emotional value; your online activity is an extension of yourself. For another, there’s real monetary value — depending on the source, the average American has between $35,000 and $55,000 in digital assets.
It takes proper planning to ensure these assets and the means to manage them go to the people you trust. That may take a little time learning about your options, so we’ve put together five of the assets you ought to focus on.
1. Email Accounts and Digital Communications
If you’re like 89% of Americans, you probably check your email every day; 20% of Americans check their email five or more times per day. Some of what you send or receive may be frivolous, but many messages are more significant — the detailed information that’s shared, sent, and stored in your email accounts has value that’s unfortunately discounted. Other messaging services (e.g., instant message and chat services) will be the same. In order for these accounts to be closed, or for your loved ones or executor to access their transcripts, they’ll need to be listed as part of your estate plan.
2. Social Media Accounts
Whether you’re an avid user of social media or only use it on occasion, it represents a digital touchpoint in your life, one that may not be tangible but is no less an extension of yourself. Your fiduciary needs to either close or memorialize your account (if that service is offered, as with Facebook). Otherwise, you risk adding to your friends’ and family’s emotional distress. There’s also the risk that these accounts could be hacked and misused. Be sure the appropriate way to do this is outlined so the proper documents can be provided as necessary.
3. Owned Digital Content
Just because something is digital doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t own it. If you’ve bought music from iTunes or an ebook for a Kindle or Nook, those items belong to you and deserved to be inherited just like any other physical album or book. Other services may not be as obvious — if you have cloud storage, like Dropbox or Google Drive, you may have documents, photos, or other files that belong to you stored there that need to be dealt with. Don’t forget to include any physical storage devices, like external hard drives and thumb drives.
4. Online Shopping and Reviews
If you’ve shopped online (e.g., Amazon) or used a service to find or leave reviews about products and businesses (e.g., Yelp) then those accounts probably contain pertinent personal information. Shopping sites in particular need to be closed or transferred because they’ll contain banking information.
5. Digital Financial Accounts
Most people will remember to add their bank and investment accounts to their estate plan, but they may not remember to add the full breadth of digital financial services that they use. Do you manage your insurance online, or through an app on your phone? Do you transfer money online with Western Union or make payments using PayPal? Each of these services will need to be closed and any finances they contain should be transferred to your heirs.
Remember, your digital assets are just as important as your tangible assets. When you consider your future, and the future of those you love, don’t exclude them from your planning. Ensure that they will be found, managed, and owned by the ones you trust by including each account and login credentials.