Why Everyone Needs a Digital Estate Plan | Mylennium

Why Everyone Needs a Digital Estate Plan

“What are digital assets, and do I have any?” is a common start to my conversations with potential clients or estate planning professionals when I mention that my company creates digital estate plans.  Once I identify the most common types of digital assets – email, digital photos and videos, digital documents, social media accounts, online financial accounts, loyalty reward accounts, and digital media services (eBooks, music, video), the universal response is “I never thought of that!  I have all of those digital assets – what will happen to them if I die?”  While almost everyone in the age group of 18 to 80 has personal digital assets, most haven’t asked themselves how they would like these assets handled after they die, or if a chosen estate executor (family member, friend, attorney, accountant, or professional fiduciary) has the technical skills needed to settle both their traditional estate and their digital estate. 

While most members of the Millennial generation have yet to build an estate with significant monetary value, they were “born digital” and have already amassed a large collection of digital assets that should be settled according to their wishes if they die unexpectedly.  They may want certain digital assets to be destroyed and others to be memorialized for future generations to know what made their life special and unique.  No one knows how much data a Millennial will amass during their lifetime but the number will be huge and will require a digital executor that can deal with terabytes or even petabytes of data!

Without a digital estate plan for an executor to follow, there is significant risk that many of your digital assets will be lost to heirs and future generations.  Abandoned or inactive social media accounts increase the likelihood of identity theft.  In most cases, lost digital assets will be of high sentimental value such as email, photos, videos, and social media posts.  A growing number of people have digital assets with monetary value as well, including online financial assets, online sales, loyalty reward points, digital currency, and even domain name registrations.

The ease with which we generate digital assets and create a widespread digital footprint disguises the fact that most estate executors don’t have the technical expertise or knowledge to procure, protect, preserve, and distribute an individual’s digital assets.  Common barriers to settling an individual’s digital assets include Terms of Service agreement limitations, Federal and State Law that limit or prohibit access without authorization, and the inability to identify online services that will quickly delete a user’s accounts due to non-use or non-payment.  The digital revolution has transformed assets that were once tangible into intangible digital data that requires a digital executor’s skill to ensure these assets survive across the inevitable generational transfer.

Unlike an estate plan which is valuable for an individual who has significant real property and monetary assets, a digital estate plan is important for everyone with digital assets. If you have yet to build an estate with real property holdings and other tangible assets, don’t overlook the value and importance of your personal digital assets, particularly if you are from the Millennial or Gen X generation.  For anyone that uses a computer or smartphone, now is the time to create a digital estate plan, choose a digital executor to follow that plan, and give the digital executor written authority to settle your digital assets according to your wishes.