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Designing an estate plan for your digital assets

If you have been following our blog on estate planning, you know how important discuss the components of this legal portfolio with your parents. In the past, most conversations about estate plans typically included wills, advanced medical directives and trusts. Today, our reliance on the internet's ability to facilitate correspondence, pay bills, store data and sell goods requires that we incorporate digital assets into our estate plan. Even if your parents do not hold copyrights for photos published online or market wares on Etsy, there are aspects of their online identities that need to be protected when they pass.

The following list should help you begin a discussion with your parents about establishing a plan for their digital assets. The items provided apply to those individuals with a basic online presence. Those who maintain businesses on the internet will need to create a more elaborate plan to administer to the needs the online company.

1. Catalogue digital assets

Some items on the list of digital assets may overlap those appearing in a will because both may be concerned with valuable computer hardware and software. Nonetheless, it is important to be thorough in documenting the type of computers, software, data storage drives your parents may possess. Moving online, you should inventory internet accounts your parents hold for social media, utilities or finances. In the event of your parents' passing, you will need to close up accounts and pay outstanding debts.

2. Make passwords accessible

Anyone who has held an account with passwords that require quarterly updating knows how frustrating it can be to establish a memorable yet unique password. Most computer security experts recommend maintaining a list of passwords in an easily-accessible location, such as an address book located at the home. For similar reasons, your parents should catalogue their login information and answers to security questions. The list should be duplicated for both parents and estate executor.

3. Create a plan

When your parents pass away, how do they wish to have their deaths revealed in the online community? Your parents may wish have a final note sent to friends through Facebook or have a clip posted on YouTube. If they have maintained personal websites with blogs, they should decide if they would like the blogs to remain posted. In order for someone to act on their behalf, they will need to give permission to another individual to retain control over their website. A company's terms of service will outline company policy for transferring account ownership.

You may find that, like the steps required to draft a will, the process for documenting and organizing these digital assets may be time consuming. As with the completion of the will, folding their digital assets into their estate planning can also bring about the peace of mind for them and you. 

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