Although we all recognize the need to draft a will to make sure our assets and belongings are passed along to our loved ones, it is easy to overlook the same need to prepare our “digital estates.” However, less than 30 years since the Internet became publically available, digital planning with your wills and estates lawyer has already become essential.
Since the Internet is international in nature but a will follows the laws of the jurisdiction you live in, it is imperative you speak with a wills and estate lawyer where you live. DBM’s Langley, and Coquitlam lawyers will ensure your digital directives adhere to British Columbia law.
Regardless of where you live, the fact is that with the invention of each new app, the digital world creeps further into our lives without us really thinking about it all that much. Additionally, legislation has yet to catch up with digital progress, and different online platforms have different rules for what happens when a user passes away.
In short, in the new frontier that is digital estate planning, you are responsible for taking initiative in preparing your digital legacy.
From social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, to the many password-protected accounts we use for emailing, web banking, TV streaming, online commenting, and flight reward programs—to name only a few—we use innumerable username/password combos each day.
Making sure these accounts are accessible following your death will save your loved ones a lot of legwork. However, since wills become public documents following probate, you should create a separate document that contains logins, rather than listing them directly in your will. Otherwise, anyone might be able to access your accounts.
And even better than listing every password in your life is using a password manager like Keychain or 1Password, which require just one master password. This way you won’t have to update your will each time you update a password—which, for some people, is multiple times a month.
To access and manage each of your online accounts, you should name an online executor or discuss other options for digital management with your lawyer. You should also request the person who will take care of your digital estate is given a copy of your death certificate, which may be needed as proof to access certain websites, including Twitter.
Digital assets include things like music collections through services like iTunes, online gaming purchases, and digital real estate like domain names and Etsy storefronts. They also include digital belongings that are not kept in online accounts but rather on your hard drive or mobile phone: digital photos, MP3 music collections, and electronic files such as diaries and memoirs, banking information, and more.
In your will, you can name beneficiaries for these digital assets in the same way you name beneficiaries for your physical assets.
In addition to identifying who should manage and receive your digital estate, your will should include directives for your “digital afterlife.” You must decide if you prefer to have your online accounts cancelled or to have your online presence preserved indefinitely.
For example, your Facebook profile can be “memorialized” or deleted and your Twitter account can be removed or left as is.
Even if you start using a password manager and keep a list of logins in a safety deposit box, the fact is that the digital landscape could be completely different in a few short years. Revisiting your digital estate planning regularly will ensure account access information is kept up-to-date and in the most current format.
Staying on top of the digital also means, with the assistance of your wills and estate lawyer, staying on top of the latest legislation that affects digital belongings and presence. Perhaps the ability to remove all photos of yourself from the Internet or to bequeath your ebook collection to multiple people may become available in Canada in the near future.
Since it is impossible to predict where the Internet may take us in even the near future, it is just as impossible to account for every digital estate planning need without reconsidering it at least every few years.