Estate planning is an important undertaking at any stage of life, but in an era where more and more of life is conducted online, one aspect that may be overlooked is the online presence.
“In the digital age, we now all own a new class of assets, called digital assets,” said Sharon Hartung, author of Your Digital Undertaker: Exploring Death in the Digital Age in Canada.
Digital assets, according to Ernie Hagel, president of McInnis & Holloway Funeral Homes, includes Facebook and Twitter account, online banking accounts and any other online site that contains personal information. As with any asset, it is important to communicate digital assets to an executor before a person is deceased and no longer able to, he said.
“It’s a lot easier, when people are doing estate planning, if they have a list so people know where to go to get their passwords so they can get into these accounts,” he said.
Hagel noted this advice goes contrary to security practices that recommend passwords not be written down, but said as long as that list is stored somewhere safe, there should not be any concern about a breach. He added keeping this kind of list is no different than maintaining a list of assets or banks accounts.
“There’s no central registry…that you can go find out if there’s a life insurance policy, or you can go find out if there’s any other assets or there’s bank accounts here or there,” Hagel said. “That’s why it’s very important, in doing your estate planning, to make sure you’ve got a list of accounts.”
Hartung noted digital assets may “have thousands of dollars of value,” in the form of loyalty points, travel rewards, crypto assets, digital photos, blogs and web domains, which need to be included in a will and estate plan.
“According to a McAfee Survey, globally, we own $35,000 worth of digital assets,” she said. “Take inventory of your digital life and begin to add up the value where possible.”
Hagel said it is important to communicate all assets, digital or otherwise, to an executor before you are no longer able to. Once a person is deceased, it can be difficult to gain access to online accounts and, Hartung noted, executors may also face a locked laptop or tablet.
“We have had experiences where people are wondering how to get into accounts,” Hagel said. “It does make it more difficult.”
He recommends online accounts of a deceased person be swiftly deleted to avoid security breaches and hacks.
“When our after-care people meet with people after the service, or the family [or] the next of kin, we really work hard to make sure they cancel everything [digital] that the person had, because we don’t want to leave any of those accounts out there,” Hagel said.