Getting your “Internet house” in order
Just as your will or estate plan should set out clear instructions for your worldly goods, it’s now necessary in today’s technology-driven world to incorporate your digital assets into the estate-planning process. We explain why and identify some key considerations to create a more thorough estate plan that includes your digital presence.
What is a digital asset or account?
A broad definition of a digital asset is a document or other form of information that is stored on a computer (including a phone, tablet, smart watch) or online. A digital account is how you access those files.
Chances are you have an email account, computer files and an online bank account. You possibly use at least one social media platform (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.), store photos on your cell phone or on iCloud, and download electronic books and music. The point is that each of us has a digital life or footprint to some extent. Now, consider what you’d like to happen to these intangible assets and online accounts when you die or if you become incapacitated: Can the assets themselves be transferred or bequeathed? Should the accounts be preserved or deactivated?
Remember, without leaving details of your virtual assets and outlining your instructions, your executor or family members are left to sort through your digital belongings. And if they’re disinclined to deal with this process, these assets may remain inaccessible to your beneficiaries – effectively forgotten in cyberspace.
Why estate planning for digital assets is important
It’s often difficult to focus on mortality or death when you’re younger and in good health; but, developing a comprehensive estate plan that includes instructions on digital assets is simply a pragmatic move at any age. Like tangible assets, digital assets can have sentimental and/or monetary value. So, beyond a properly drafted will, your estate plan should also document your virtual possessions and online accounts with specific directions: Should an account be deleted, for instance, photos stored, and your online documents archived and saved?
In addition to reflecting your wishes, these details will enable an executor (a liquidator in Quebec) or estate trustee to identify the totality of your estate’s assets and liabilities. Moreover, this can also help avoid potential issues such as account manipulation or identity theft and address any immediate responsibilities such as bill payments.
Which digital assets or accounts do you have or use?
For the purposes of an estate plan, digital assets can be broadly sorted into three categories:
1. Personal digital assets with monetary value
- Bank accounts
- Airline loyalty cards (Aeroplan, Air Miles etc.)
- Retail store cards (Shoppers Optimum card; HBC card etc.)
- Online sales accounts: Amazon, PayPal, eBay, Craigslist, Kijiji, Etsy etc.
- Virtual or cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin etc.
- Apple Music
- Apple Books
- Amazon Kindle
- Domain names
- Video or online gaming accounts
- External hard drives
2. Personal digital assets with sentimental value
These can include digital assets with monetary value as well as social media accounts; family digital photo and video-sharing accounts; personal email accounts.
3. Business digital assets with monetary value
- Email contact lists and client/customer lists
- Products in an online store
- Websites or blogs
- Business processes (on spreadsheets, for example) that employees have developed and may be duplicated and sold
- Apps created by the business to sell or for its own use
- Intellectual property