Millions of us have something in common: We use computers, smartphones and other electronic gadgets to access the internet. We do it a lot, and for all sorts of reasons. And while we may not realize it, practically all of us are making cyber-copies of ourselves and creating digital assets that will still be here after we die.

What happens to your information and accounts?

Know What You're Creating Online

When it comes to your will and estate planning, you're making sure your worldly possessions - cash, home, cars, jewelry, etc. - go to your loved ones, or maybe to charity. And, you choose an executor to make sure your wishes are followed.

The same should go for your digital assets. There are two key things to remember:

  1. Know what you're creating online
  2. Make sure someone knows about it

What Is a Digital Asset?

Practically any online activity creates some sort of digital asset. Some may be more valuable than others, but even those of little monetary value should be taken care of after you die. For example:

  • Online stock-trading accounts and online bank accounts. You may have hundreds or thousands of dollars tucked away online
  • Do you own or run a web site? A blog? A domain name might be worth thousands of dollars, so may revenue you make from advertisers on your site
  • Do you buy or sell items online? You may have money sitting in your PayPal or eBay account
  • How much money have you invested in your iTunes account or other online music library?
  • Practically everyone has at least one email account, and some even store personal information and family photos in them. What's in your account?
  • Social media networks and web sites are used by millions of people to share information, photos, videos and more. What do you keep on Facebook, Twitter or similar sites?
  • Don't forget about your computer and other digital files you have stored with an online backup company

It's All Valuable

Obviously, digital assets like money and investments in online accounts are valuable items you should protect after your death. But your photos and other digital files are valuable, too, if only for sentimental reasons.

Strangers may see value, too. Cybersquatters may hijack your web site after you're gone if no one's watching. And you can bet that more than one identity thief would love to get into your email account and computer files.

Take Steps Now to Protect Your Digital Assets

There are things you should do right now to help make sure your digital assets are taken care of after you pass away.

Tell Someone

Like your other assets, it's critical that someone knows about your digital assets:

  • Make a list of your online accounts, along with passwords and screen names, and keep them with your important documents and papers
  • Add them to your will and give your executor power to take care of them. If you don't have a will yet, get one

Check with the Companies or Sites

Contact the online vendors, banks and other web sites you do business with and ask about their policies, if any, on what happens to your accounts, etc. after you die. For example:

  • Banks and investment firms may send a notice or inquiry by mail or email if an account is inactive for a period of time
  • Online privacy policies or help documents may explain what happens after you die. For example, Facebook's privacy policy explains how your account can be deleted or preserved online (or "memorialized") after you die

Assets come in all shapes and sizes - even if you can't physically see or touch them. No matter what they are, make sure your loved ones get to enjoy and use your digital assets after you die.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I name anyone as the executor of my will?
  • What might happen if my an executor doesn't delete online accounts and information as I request in my will?
  • Are digital assets taxed after I die? How?

Tagged as: Trusts and Estates, Estate Planning, digital assets, estate lawyer