Why digital assets shouldn't be ignored when making a will

This article looks at the risks of not having a digital estate plan and how to go about making one.

Making a will is one of the most effective ways of preparing for the future and giving loved ones greater peace of mind. However, when making a will many people overlook the importance of digital assets, such as online financial accounts and even social media accounts. Because an increasing share of peoples' emotional, social, and financial lives are now online, ensuring that instructions are in place to take care of digital assets after one passes on has become extremely important. Below is a look at what the dangers of not having a digital estate plan are and how people can go about preparing one.

Why ignoring digital assets is dangerous

Ensuring that one leaves behind instructions for how digital assets are to be handled is extremely important. That's because in many cases ignoring digital assets in a will could leave loved ones locked out of important accounts. Without a will specifying who has access to such accounts then generally the terms of service agreements for those accounts determine what happens to them. In most cases, those terms ban anybody from accessing the account who isn't the account owner - even after the account owner has passed away.

For example, as CBS News reports, one family found out the hard way how devastating a lack of a digital estate plan can be. When the 62-year-old father of the family fell into a coma, he later awoke unable to remember the password to his Yahoo account. The family was blocked from accessing the account and because the man's businesses were tied to his Yahoo account, his business ultimately collapsed.

Making a digital estate plan

As MarketWatch notes, there are a few simple steps that one can take to make an effective estate plan. What happens to one's digital assets should be written, in detail, into a will. The will should specify who is to be granted access to such accounts and what the nature of that access is. For example, the executor may be given access to one's email account, but not be allowed to read personal emails.

Passwords and usernames, however, should not be written into the will itself. Instead, an inventory of one's accounts, with usernames and passwords, should be made and kept in a secure place, such as a vault. An online vault or a password manager can also be effective ways of keeping this important information safe. Access to this inventory should only be given to a close and trusted friend or family member.

Help with estate planning

Making a will is just one step in creating an effective and comprehensive estate plan. An estate planning attorney can help anybody who is making a will or developing an overall estate plan. With an experienced attorney, clients will have the advice and guidance they need to ensure their estate plan provides the greatest security and peace of mind for their loved ones going forward.