Digital Assets - Erasing Your Digital Footprint When You Die

Managing your digital afterlife has become an important part of estate planning for many individuals. In addition to planning for transferring digital assets, many individuals are also concerned about their digital footprint after their death. Experienced Maryland-estate planning attorney should be able to discuss handling digital assets and your digital footprint in relation to your estate planning goals.

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Transferring Your Digital Assets After Your Death

When we discuss digital assets as part of your estate plan, many people assume these assets are limited to bitcoin accounts or online financial accounts. However, your digital assets also encompass any account used to create or maintain your online presence.

Digital assets can include things like:

  • Social media accounts

  • Blogs

  • Cloud accounts

  • Online bank accounts

  • Photo and video storage accounts

  • Online shopping accounts

  • Financial accounts, such as PayPal accounts, brokerage accounts, and freelance accounts (i.e. Upwork, Crowd Content, etc.)

  • Email accounts

  • Online bill payment accounts

  • Other websites that store your financial information

Financial accounts you maintain online should have a payable on death (POD) or a beneficiary form for you to complete. However, this may not be the case with all platforms. 

Your digital assets also encompass any account used to create or maintain your online presence.

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It is up to you to read the terms for your account to determine how the account is handled after your death. Are you able to appoint a POD or beneficiary for the account? Can you designate a fiduciary to access and control the account after your death? Some accounts may not discuss what happens to an account after your death, but it may state what happens to an account that remains inactive for a specific period.

Each account should be analyzed individually. For each account with a legacy feature, designate a fiduciary to handle the account after your death. It is wise to address these accounts in your will so your personal representative and fiduciary know about the accounts. Avoid listing specific information in your will about digital assets, such as logins and passwords. All sensitive information should be maintained in a safe location that your designated person can access after your death.

Accounts that Do Not Allow for Fiduciary Appoints During Lifetime

Some accounts may not give you the option of appointing someone to handle the account after your death. Therefore, make provisions in your will and estate plan for these accounts.

Digital assets can be difficult and challenging to handle in an estate plan. Each account has a separate login and password. You do not want to place sensitive information in your will. However, you need to create a master list of accounts, logins, and passwords that your fiduciary can use to manage, transfer, or delete your digital life. When making your list, include information such as:

  • Complete list of all online accounts, including all electronic hardware used to access and store information about the accounts (i.e. laptop, tablet, cell phones, cameras, computers, flash drives, etc.)

  • Logins and passwords for each account

  • Whether the account has a POD, beneficiary, or fiduciary appointed and the name of that person 

  • Identify all software used to store information about your online accounts and assets, including where the software is stored and what data the software contains (i.e. account numbers, logins, passwords, balances, etc.)

  • How you want each account or asset treated. For example, do you want your Facebook account to be maintained, memorialized, or deleted?

Store this information in a secure location. Some individuals have a flash drive containing the above information while other individuals may prefer hard copies of information. It is your preference. The key is to update the information often, keep the information secure, and ensure that the person you designate to retrieve the information has access to the location.

For instance, if you place the information in a safety deposit box, your personal representative appointed in your will may access the box, but the person you wish to manage your digital accounts may not have access to the box after your death. State in your will that your personal representative should retrieve the information from your safety deposit box and turn it over to the person you choose to manage your digital footprint. Remember that your personal representative is the only person with authority to transfer assets, such as financial accounts and digital currency unless otherwise ordered by the court.

The key is to update the information often, keep the information secure, and ensure that the person you designate to retrieve the information has access to the location.

How to Maintain Your Privacy After Your Death

Unfortunately, most people do not have time to “clean up” their digital presence before their deaths. Everyone deserves to maintain their privacy even after their death; however, what you place online may never be truly private. Your family or others may gain access to this information after your death. 

The average person has over 100 online accounts, including financial, social media, communication, and entertainment accounts. If you are concerned, one way to manage your digital footprint after your death is to control your digital footprint during your lifetime. Manage your digital footprint by deleting old and unused accounts and deleting histories regularly. Some people utilize services that delete and erase digital footprints before and after death.

It is up to you how you want to handle your digital footprint during your lifetime. After death, you need to ensure you appoint a trusted individual to manage your online accounts, leave detailed instructions for your digital assets, and provide the information needed to transfer or manage your accounts. 

Ask a Maryland Estate-Planning Attorney for Help

Because of the issues related to digital assets, many states have enacted laws to dictate how online accounts are managed after a person’s death. There are also federal laws that may apply to some digital assets. Working with an experienced Maryland-estate planning attorney can help ensure that your will and other estate planning documents contain provisions for digital assets that comply with any applicable laws. An attorney can also help you make sure that the steps you have taken in your estate plan to protect your digital assets will accomplish your wishes and goals. Contact Thienel Law today. Maryland estate-planning attorney Steve Thienel is dedicated to assisting clients in Maryland, Virginia, and throughout the DC Metro area.