Estate planning is an important step in being a good steward of that which the Lord has blessed you. An estate plan normally involves creating wills and trusts, naming beneficiaries for financial accounts, giving permission for financial and health concerns should you become incapacitated, and making plans to distribute estate assets to family and ministry after death. There is an additional estate planning asset to consider when making plans. Perhaps you have never thought about your acquired digital assets. These also must be managed in death.
Pew Research Center has documented the internet’s growth and distribution in the United States over the last 20 years. The percentage of U.S. adults ages 50-64 that use the internet has grown from 46% to 88% and those age 65+ has grown from 14% to 73%.
Take a moment to consider how much of your life is connected to your electronic devices (e.g. computer, mobile phone, tablets and other devices). Your digital assets are like footprints in the sand. You may have simply an email account or a social media page. But, if you’re like a growing number of consumers, you obtain information about your bank accounts, pay bills, buy groceries and other purchases, join groups and gather information, all electronically. Much of that sensitive information is placed in the memory of those devices.
With regard to estate planning, what will happen to your digital assets when you pass away? Will your loved ones or personal representatives have access to those assets, accounts or information? Will they know how to manage them to be in line with your wishes? Where does one start in adding this important information to their estate plans?
(1) Take inventory of all of your digital assets. What online accounts do you have (basic or intricate, personal or professional)? Do you have a list of the electronic hardware that you use such as computers, tablets or smartphones? Do you keep any of them in a secure place that should be noted?
(2) Document username and password information in a secure place that your attorney or personal representative know about. You may want to consider using a password management app. If you do, make sure your attorney and personal representative know this. Given that this personal and sensitive information will most likely change over time, you should plan to regularly update this information.
(3) Designate a trusted individual to have the ability to access your digital assets information after you die. Update your will, trust and power of attorney documents to authorize these individuals to serve as fiduciaries to access your digital assets.
(4) Do your digital assets have estate plan implications? Ask your attorney, financial adviser or estate planning professional to help you develop a plan that matches your legacy wishes.
(5) Make your wishes known for your digital assets to be handled after death. While most funeral homes give families the option to post a love one’s obituary, a next step question is whether you want your family to post funeral information on your social media account? If so, will they have access to your account to do so? Are there accounts that you want closed down or left open? If so, does your family have access to do so? The more detailed instructions you leave, the easier for your family and friends to know what to do and to safeguard your final wishes.
New technologies give us new platforms and responsibilities to stay connected and advance the gospel! Giving access to proper individuals with permission to access and manage your digital assets after your death, should be included in your estate plans. It is another step in being a good steward. The MBF has an Estate Planning Guide that can help walk you through the process of remembering all of the details associated with planning. Visit www.MBFN.org for your own copy today, or call our offices for assistance at 800-776-0747.
This article is written by Nick Davis, Regional Vice President of the Missouri Baptist Foundation (MBF). The MBF helps Missouri Baptists with money management for ministry and possibility planning for people. Call us today to make an appointment to help you in your personal planning.