The Essential 5 Steps to Establishing a Digital Estate Plan

What will happen to all of your personal digital assets after you die?  How will your family or beneficiaries be able to access your:

  • online financial, bank records, share portfolios or taxation information?
  • photos stored on your phone or a photo site?
  • documents or files stored on your computer, hard drive or in cloud storage?
  • Emails to deal with incoming invoices or correspondence?
  • social networking, photo storage or sharing accounts to download photos or information stored in them or that you have posted and to close down or memorialise your accounts and notify people you are connected with on those accounts of your passing?
  • iTunes playlist or e-reader library to use or download your favourite music or books as a sentimental reminder of you?
  • Utility accounts, private health cover accounts and Australian Government Department of Human services site for Medicare or Centrelink matters?
  • membership rewards program credits ie. frequent flyers, hotel memberships or FlyBuy points, will the credit/ points/ cash values be able to be redeemed or transferred?
  • purchasing accounts i.e. paypal, ebay, gumtree?

So, what is a digital asset?

  1. A digital asset is any digital device e.g. computer, laptop, mobile or tablet including the data stored on a digital device, for example, documents, emails, photos and music; and
  2. on the web e.g. online storage accounts, online shopping accounts, social media accounts and online financial/banking accounts.

Dangers of leaving digital affairs in limbo

In this digital age, we are increasingly seeing problems created when people die without having considered who to give access to their digital assets and who should know their crucial computer passwords.  This can lead to substantial costs to beneficiaries to decrypt codes in order to access devices or to gain legal consent to administer online accounts.  There is a danger in leaving your digital affairs in a state of limbo, it is important to specifically give someone the power to access and manage your digital assets to tidy up your affairs when you pass away.  This Digital Executor will need an inventory of your digital estate.

Here are the essential five steps to establishing a Digital Estate Plan:

  1. Make an inventory of all your digital assets noting the username and password for each one including; hardware i.e. Computers, mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, ipods and for all of your online accounts as detailed above.
  1. Nominate/ Appoint a Digital Executor and ask them to accept the appointment. This does not have to be the same person for each asset.  Your digital executor could be your solicitor a family member, friend or someone else that you trust.
  1. Consider and leave instructions in your Digital Estate Plan about what you would like done with each digital asset. For example; you may want some assets saved, archived, printed, deleted or closed down or the ownership or access transferred to a beneficiary through your Will.
  2. Make your instructions legal. Have your Digital Executor noted in your Will and the transfer of ownership of any digital assets noted in your Will. Your Digital Estate Plan should be held with your Will but not be a part of your Will as after the Will is probated it becomes a public document and it would not be desirable to have passwords made public.  The other reason not to have your Digital Estate Plan as part of your Will is that you will need to regularly update your Digital Inventory as you add and remove accounts or change passwords over your lifetime.  This Digital Estate Plan should be updated every six months.
  1. You also need to ensure safe and multiple storage of your Digital Estate Plan. Ideally the plan should be stored with your Will by your solicitor and yourself either at home in a safe or locked metal filing cabinet or a bank safety deposit box.  Alternatively, your Digital Estate Plan inventory could contain the access code for an online password management or data storage site so you can continually update your digital inventory and have it securely stored.

If you have a business, it is advisable to create a separate Digital Asset Inventory for your business’ digital assets.  These are all important issues to consider and discuss with Wright Clarke when preparing or updating your Will.