19th Feb 2015

Many remember the recent debacle with Joan Rivers endorsed the iPhone 6 more than 2 weeks after she passed away on her Instagram and Facebook accounts.

This event, like many before, has raised many issues about what happens to our digital presence after we pass on. As technology continues to develop and expand at break-neck speeds, the law and policies are slow to catch up. Fewer than 12 states have laws which discuss digital assets, most of which are already out of date, because they have been limited only to technology and digital assets which were available at the time of passing; while progressive, they failed to plan for new advances and digital presences.

While most people do not have the following that Joan Rivers did, most individuals have some sort of online presence. Whether you have a blog that produces some income, a youtube account, a listserve of clients, a website, or just your connections on Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, tumblr, Instagram, our presence online is out there. Not to mention, you also have email accounts, online banking, online shopping, gaming accounts, Netflix, your iTunes, your favorite pizza app… ok so we now live and die online. We are inextricably tied to our internet.

What can you do to plan for your digital estate? Do you want your presence deleted? Do you want your family and friends to have access to your emails, your Facebook account, your website? There are some simple things that you can do to plan ahead and make sure that your wishes are carried out.

Notwithstanding laws in a few states, most companies have provisions or restrictions on allowing others access to your accounts, relying on state and federal privacy laws. However, Facebook, in a monumental shift, has recently announced that they are providing for a legacy contact, who will be able to post, respond to friend requests, update information, and archive photos and posts. Users have to select a legacy contact from their friends list.

We recommend the following steps for your digital estate plan.

1) Inventory. Take a detailed inventory of all of your digital assets. This includes not only compiling a list of your accounts and passwords, but also your computers, hard drives, jump drives, smart phones, digital music, etc. This will not only help your digital executor, but this will also help inspire you to clean up some of your files and organize as well.

2) Digital Executor. Choose someone, preferably someone who is tech savvy, who will agree to administer your digital estate after you pass on.

3) Create a VAIL with access. Create a Virtual Asset Instruction Letter (VAIL) indicating how you want each asset handled, i.e., do you want the asset deleted, do you want the information archived and provided to your heirs, do you want the blog/website to remain up and collect income. This is the place to provide instructions to your executor and access information. When you change your account information, you should update your VAIL. You should store the VAIL in a secure place, like a safe deposit box, that will not be accessed before it’s needed.

4) Keep Plan Updated. Like with your estate plan for your personal and real property, your Digital Estate Plan should be regularly updated as technology continues to develop.

Contact Christensen Young and Associates at 866-861-3333 for help in your estate planning or creating your personalized VAIL.

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