What are digital assets? And why should you care?

Pile of rusty old keys

This is a guest post from Directive Communication Systems (DCS). DCS has a new service -- Protect myPlans(TM) -- to help you manage your digital assets.

We get it. You’re busy. And yet—DIY may as well be your middle initials. So let's cut to the chase: What about your online accounts, every one of them?

When you die, even one forgotten account can ruin everything you’ve worked for -- and can compromise your whole estate plan. Digital assets could be the most important thing you’ve never heard about.

Why haven’t you? Well, Google is barely old enough to vote, and the estate planning industry has yet to catch up.

Digital assets and online accounts are governed by totally different rules, most of which preclude access in favor of privacy, unlike other “traditional” property. It’s not enough to compose a will and then assume you are in the clear.

Listen, we live online.

The average American has 130 accounts tied to one email address, with that number expected to reach 207 by 2020. And based on study by McAfee in 2011, Americans have $55K on average in digital assets. Today, the number is closer to $100K.

Passwords Suck

So—what? You are planning to leave everything to your sister. And you gave her a list of accounts and passwords (potential legal issues here, BTW), but okay…. Have you ever tried logging into someone else’s Facebook account from an unrecognized (maybe even your own) device? Yeah, it didn’t work! Service providers have methods in place to detect unauthorized access and then lock accounts.

What happens when your sister gets locked out of your Apple ID? Happens to the best of us. (Why do iPads require three passwords?!) And when was the last time you changed passwords? Providers often prompt you to change them at least every six months. On average, there are 37 “forgot password” emails sent to each inbox.

How current is your catalogue of accounts?

Okay, this is not even to mention “paperless” bank accounts or online bill-pay for utilities, car and mortgage payments, etc. The bottom line: Say you are out of commission tomorrow. Who will take over and how?

Password sharing simply does not work. And, hey, tech companies are on it, sending the whole idea of passwords up in smoke. Facebook is developing a feature that would serve as a backup security key for other, unrelated accounts. Microsoft and Samsung both have new methods to access devices including facial recognition and iris scanning technology.

We ❤ Privacy

Here is the tricky part: Americans have beefed up privacy laws for online accounts (because we like it that way), which precludes estate planners and families from gaining access to accounts.

Granted, new legislation (more on that later) addresses the issue of access, but for the sake of argument let’s assume your sister is armed with everything she needs to get to your accounts.

How many emails are in your inbox right now? Do you want one person to go through everything, from financial matters, to personal correspondence as well as sentimental property? Do you want your sister seeing all the stuff stored on your iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox? Would she know how to find things and what to do with what she found?

If you own a small business or intellectual or creative property (blogs, podcasts, domain names, etc.), welcome to a totally different ballgame.

Without clear planning, a court could also appoint someone else to investigate whatever limited content they find—creepy.

Big deal, you say—I’ll be gone.  But the people you leave behind will be screwed.

Take for example a few recent news headlines:

Suffice it to say: Failure to plan for digital assets burdens your survivors with undue stress and costly legal challenges and could result in roadblocks to administering your estate.

Brave New Laws

Given that estate law is governed at the state level, several states have introduced or enacted legislation that would allow for your estate team to access accounts while eliminating penalties for service providers that release information.

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA)—which addresses authority to the fiduciary to manage digital assets in accordance with the estate plan, while balancing privacy concerns—has been enacted in 36 states. Thirteen more states have introduced the legislation, with expectations that it will pass by the end of this year.  This legislation is complex if the account holder doesn’t declare their intent for their accounts.

It's About Time

While it can be hard to see the forest for the trees when planning for digital assets, a narrow path has opened.

The hard part is coming up with a system to catalogue and verify all these digital accounts, record directions, and assist trustees and personal representatives to put final wishes for accounts into action.

Remember: you may consider the content of some accounts sensitive such that you do not want to give out unlimited access.

Best of Both Worlds

Directive Communication Systems (DCS), provides a comprehensive program for attorneys and their clients.

Great news: DCS recently introduced a DIY option: Protect myPlans(TM).

The system is easy to use and to maintain.

Because DCS is the only company to offer a feature that automatically captures accounts, your DCS Profile (which includes your online accounts and all your digital devices) can expand and adapt to individual needs, as accounts accrue and new technologies arise. Whatever the hot trend is—think GooglePlay, Shutterfly, Instagram—DCS is on it.

DCS works without recording passwords or having the capacity to view the contents of your accounts. The company complies with federal and state legislative acts as well as custodian Terms of Service protocols. It’s safe, secure, private and user-friendly.

Plus, enrollment costs less than a night out.

 “After my mom died, I was charged with settling a complicated estate. Losing her was a shock and devastating. I needed time to mourn. Unfortunately, I was thrown into trying to identify and secure her assets and online accounts. The process was exhausting and difficult, and I will never know if I located everything. It is such a relief to me that my husband will not have to go through that when I die, because all my accounts along with my wishes for how they should be handled are now securely stored with DCS. This is an invaluable service!” – Sarah, a DCS client.

So—no excuses. It’s time. Tie up loose ends now, and cover your bases for later. Then get back to enjoying life! No one else can do that for you.

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