What happens to your clients’ digital assets when they pass away?
You might even be wondering what exactly these so-called digital assets are anyway.
Simply put, a digital asset is digitally stored content or an online account that is owned by an individual.
Think about it: this includes electronic possessions across computers, tablets and smartphones and virtual property like personal photos, videos and movies, songs, e-books, e-mails, and texts, just to name a few. It also includes online account information for a litany of websites your clients use daily, including online retailers, credit cards, health records, bank accounts, PayPal, loyalty programs and social media. The list goes on.
The Value of Digital Assets
So how much are one’s digital assets worth? According to McAfee, consumers in the U.S. value their digital assets at almost $55,000 and globally consumers value them at about $37,000.
Are your clients protecting these assets? And furthermore, are these assets included in their estate? These digital assets contain personal records, sensitive information and communication, as well as career information. They also can have a significant financial value, as well as sentimental value so it is important that you as their advisor are well informed to assist them.
Create a List
First and foremost, your clients should create a list of all of their digital assets so their family has access to it in the event of their passing. This master list is important to access right away to take care of financial concerns such as bills that are autopay, for example.
The master list should first include a list of all of their devices, as well as the passwords to unlock the devices. Even if the heirs decide to gift or donate the family member’s devices, they won’t even know what is contained on the devices if they cannot unlock them.
The master list must also include a list of accounts with usernames and passwords. This list should be extensive and include everything that requires a password, including backup drives and cloud accounts. The list should also contain the answers to the secret questions that many accounts require.
This master list will ultimately act as a map for your clients’ loved ones to follow. It is important to note, however, that experts advise not to include passwords in wills or documents that will become public documents.
Consider Securing the List
At the very least, clients should create the list in a text file or simply on a piece of paper. If security of this master list is also a concern, they can create a password-protected spreadsheet or document.
Some clients may want to go as far as to use a password management system such as LastPass. A system like this encrypts your password information and keeps it stored on your computer. One password unlocks all of the client’s data.
This may be the best way to go because research from Intel Security shows the average person has 27 discreet online logins. And this is just average. It’s probably safe to assume that many people have far more.
Create a Written Plan
Believe it or not, experts say it is important that your clients should create a written plan stating who controls their digital assets after their passing.
Unfortunately, the laws are lagging in this area. There are very few states with legislation governing what happens to digital assets after death and there is a web of unclear and inconsistent online user agreements.
Including digits assets in the estate planning process is essential and your clients’ wishes should be as specific as possible to minimize the risk of their heirs losing these assets. Your clients also should select a digital trustee to access their digital assets.
The trustee should be instructed on things such as how they should access, delete or modify digital assets and login credentials. Privacy and personal information should be addressed too. For example, does your client want their family members reading their personal emails upon their passing or will the trustee be instructed to dispose of them?
In addition, not only is a written plan and digital trustee important to prevent losing irreplaceable items like family photos and videos, but it may deter leaving your clients’ estate susceptible to cyber crime, as well as post-mortem identity theft.
Digital Estate Planning Services
Some of your clients with more complex digital asset estates may be interested in online digital estate planning services. These online services all operate differently, but in essence they continuously and securely manage the storage of digital assets. Some of these services include Everplans, AssetLock, Legacy Locker and SecureSafe.
The Bottom Line
Many clients (and their loved ones) are becoming more concerned about what happens to their digital legacy once they are gone.
Since these assets have not only a monetary worth, but also a sentimental value, it’s important to help clients protect these digital assets. Encourage them to take action and plan properly, so their loved ones have the authority to access these assets when they are no longer here and their digital legacy is not lost forever.