Traditionally, the legal world has lagged behind advances in technology. In this high-tech internet age, the pace of change rapidly accelerates while our digital presence in daily life continues to grow. Consider how much our lives revolve around technology. As individuals and businesses gradually but irreversibly move toward a paperless existence, our gadgets and the cloud store ever-increasing parts of our lives. In this landscape, the idea of our heirs looking through filing cabinets and safety deposit boxes for important documents and information necessary to pick up the pieces of our demise seems naively antiquated. This modern reality makes digital estate planning an important task. It’s time to start thinking about the issues and starting to take action steps to create a smart plan.
As the most basic starting point, we need to determine all that makes up our digital estate. Give some thought to this inventory process and you can soon be overwhelmed. Have you ceased getting paper bank account statements? Would your surviving loved ones know where to begin looking for all the important information contained in your digital footprint? Don’t count on the NSA to cooperate.
The state of the law on many issues flowing from this discussion is generally an incomplete patch work varying greatly among states. Many states have no laws on their books at all on this topic. In many platforms, including social media sites, those manifesto-length acceptance of terms agreements that nobody reads will include a declaration of what happens to your profile or account after you’re gone. A likely answer may be that it’s the property of the site and your heirs have no rights.
The inventory process is a sensible first step toward organizing and planning your digital estate. Passwords and other login information need to be collected. We should not overlook the collection of gadgets and hardware containing various categories of information ranging from the trivial to crucially important. I’ve written about the avoidance factor interfering with traditional estate planning. When we start to consider the tasks described in this article, it becomes an even more daunting process. It may be helpful to imagine the stress on our loved ones added to the underlying trauma of death as a motivator to take action now.
Another step to consider is clearly stating your desires concerning your digital assets. You can include a digital assets clause in your last will and testament, for example. Also, the will can name a point person for digital matters. This doesn’t have to be the executor in charge of overseeing the entire estate.
The importance of digital estate planning will only continue to grow alongside our increasing use of and dependence on the online world. It’s important to have your plans in order.