Traditional estate planning focuses on tangible assets like homes, cars, art, and heirloom antiques. Increasingly, however, estate planning must also include online accounts, where individuals may keep records of their debt, investments, and even life insurance.
Typically in the event of a death, family members would turn to a will, a personal safe, and even a storage cabinet to locate all the important documents necessary to divide an individual’s assets and debts. While some individuals may still keep paper statements or print contracts they signed online, many simply maintain electronic storage of their financial records.
This can wreak havoc in the days and weeks after a death. Those closest to the deceased will have to try and locate accounts that need to be paid or closed, transfer assets out of various online investment accounts, or redeem life insurance policies handled entirely online.
In order to address these issues, trusts and estates lawyers are increasingly recommending that clients complete both traditional estate planning and digital estate planning. Digital estate planning involves:
Digital estate planning requires individuals to think broadly about the accounts that they own. For instance, do you have a PayPal account that is regularly drawn from, or a Square account where other people send you money? Your loved ones will need to be able to access these and close them in order to prevent identity theft down the road.
If your digital estate plan carefully lays out all of this relevant information, your loved ones can better handle issues that may arise upon your death or incapacitation. Under Texas law, once properly organized, personal representatives of an estate or trustees are fully authorized to access a deceased’s accounts in order to manage their digital assets.
Digital estate planning can extend beyond the handling of debts and assets to also include nonmonetary accounts such as social media, email, and messenger accounts. If you become incapacitated you may need family members to handle these accounts and monitor them for important emails or communications.
Likewise, in the event of your death, your family and friends may want to take down these accounts and minimize your online presence so that they do not have to see your picture online, and so that you are not at risk of identity theft. Alternatively, some may want to memorialize you through these accounts or save special pictures and posts.
Unless you feel particularly strongly about what should happen to your communication and social media accounts upon your death, it can be helpful to leave access to these accounts to your loved ones, so that they can do what makes them most comfortable or what feels best.
If you bank online, buy stocks online, use Paypal, or are active on social media, there is a very good chance that you need to consider adding digital estate planning to your overall estate planning agenda.
At Romano & Sumner, LLC, our estate attorneys can walk you through adding digital assets to your estate planning documentation and ensure that your online assets and profiles are adequately protected. For individuals in Sugar Land, Houston, or the surrounding areas, contact us online or at 281-242-0995.
Romano & Sumner, PLLC