Where Did the Family Photos Go? Planning Your Digital Estate

Your will, your trust …your Facebook password? At first glance, creating a digital estate plan just sounds silly. Who cares what you commented on Janice’s vacation photo? While large parts of your digital life may not be of use to anyone except for you, there are tons of important things for you to pass on to your family. A Will and Trust isn’t enough, anymore.

Sentimental Documents

As the title references, probably one of the most important but non-valuable things people keep online now are pictures and videos. They can be on your phone, your personal computer, on Facebook, or Flikr or other photo websites, on a flashdrive or SD card or external hard drive. When you pass on, your family will probably want access to your family photos. Without a digital estate plan, your family might not know where the photos are kept, what the password is, and have the legal authority to take custody of the photos and close the account.

Other sentimental things could be electronic books, music, and movie collections.

Financial Accounts

What happens if you have $100 of credit card reward points? 5,000 travel miles? A $10 coupon sitting in your Target Circle account? $40 of rewards in your Panera account? Your reward apps and programs can have real savings in them, which you probably want to pass on to your family.

Assuming that your family knows about all of these accounts (quite an assumption) and can log into them (another assumption), there are some real problems to accessing and using these accounts without getting into legal trouble for violating the site’s terms and conditions, logging in under a deceased person’s account, and using the benefits therein. Even if you made an estate plan a few years ago, it probably didn’t have a digital estate provision authorizing someone to go in and use these accounts.

Ease of Administration

In this electronic age, you probably handle most of your finances online. Bank accounts, utility bills, address books, Venmo and PayPal accounts, important emails and spreadsheets, etc. Without access to your phone, computer, and all of your various individual accounts, your executor is not going to be able to stay on top of your finances. How are they going to pay your mortgage until the house is sold? How about turning off your autopay cable and internet accounts? Or evening knowing what providers you use for these? A digital estate plan is essential to allow your family to access and manage your accounts for sentimental, financial, and administrative reasons. Much of this does not even require a lawyer to assist.

First, inventory your digital assets and how to access them. A password manager like LastPass is helpful for this task, as it securely keeps track of every website you have an account at, and the password and login credentials for it.

Second, make sure your inventory is somewhere your family can find it. It does no good if they don’t know your inventory is there and can’t access it.

Third, let your family know what you want to do with your digital assets. Should your Facebook account be closed, or remain open as a tribute to your memory? Who should get that 5,000 airline miles?