Are you someone who is beginning the journey towards estate planning? This is a noble and smart move by you given the importance of planning for the future. Many of us go through a lot of trouble to plan our lives, build wealth, and secure a stable future for our children. However, fewer among us take the next step towards securing our estates if we were to pass away suddenly. Estate planning is not something for the rich, the poor, the old, or the young. Rather, estate planning is something for all adults to engage in no matter what your circumstances are. Remember that it is your family who stands to benefit from your estate planning just as they could be harmed by you not going through the estate planning process.
For most of us, our lives are spent with a great deal of time on the Internet and involved in the digital world. Whether you have an online account where your investments and retirement savings are held or even own digital assets like cryptocurrency it is important for you to be able to plan for matters related to the digital world when you are creating a will or trust. Even things like social media accounts and online photo collections can be considered in your estate planning from a digital perspective.
Unfortunately, many of us do not think about these assets while we are estate planning. The net result is that we either have to go back and create a brand-new will to correct the oversight that we made previously, or this information is simply never included in our estate planning documents. This would be an absolute shame considering that the planning and thought that goes into this subject is truthfully very minimal. However, it does require you to have a plan in place and to be intentional about how you consider your activities and property in the digital world.
In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to discuss what it means to plan your estate from the perspective of digital currencies, online accounts, and other activities that we perform online. We will take into consideration as much as we possibly can in this blog post but please bear in mind that without knowing your specific circumstances we cannot be overly specific in anything we include today. For that reason, we recommend that you reach out to our attorneys for a free-of-charge, estate planning consultation. We can meet with you in person at one of our many Houston area locations, over the phone and via video.
What do you and your family have to gain from accounting for digital assets in your estate plan?
Simply put, almost everyone reading this blog post has too much of your life online and in the digital world for you not to account for digital assets in your estate planning. In fact, besides your home and any real estate investments that you might have, most if not all of your remaining estate is housed in an online account of some sort. I am thinking about things like your bank accounts, retirement savings, investments, and cryptocurrency. Some of these assets are strictly online while others are dealt with much easier by choosing to utilize the Internet. Rather than forgo the planning necessary to account for these items it is best to consider them now rather than to run out of time and lose your ability to do so.
What you can do initially is to think about all your online habits and what makes up your online and digital footprint. Many times, small details like your cooking blog which makes a small income, or even our social media profiles can have value and add to the overall wealth that we have in our estates. Not only that, even if these accounts have a relatively low value, it is still best to account for them so that someone in your circle of trusted family and friends knows where to locate them and disable them if necessary. Leaving open accounts after you pass away invites people with bad intentions to act upon them and possibly access sensitive information that could harm your family.
For some of us, our online and digital presence means a lot to our lives and to the lives of our families. For those of us who make a living online and through the Internet then you may find yourself in a situation where digital assets which you own online can continue to generate an income for your family even after you have passed away. However, with you being deceased it would mean that a probate court judge would have to rule on transferring property and digital assets on a level that may make you uncomfortable. For that reason, it is better to have a will so that you can provide instructions to an executor and how you would like your digital assets to be handled.
By the same token, think about the different methods of security that online accounts and social media profiles have for accessing your material. Multiple passwords, usernames, and two-factor authorizations mean that even your spouse may not be able to readily access these online profiles. The result of this can range from annoying when it comes to your social media profiles to disastrous if your family needs to be able to access a financial account to pay bills after you have passed. For that reason, having a will ensures that your family will have the information available to access these accounts and proceed to either disable them or utilize them, whatever is needed in your situation.
We can take this a step further when it comes to online bank accounts and cryptocurrency wallets. Especially when it comes to cryptocurrency, you have no choice but to plan for and trust the security mechanisms online to keep your money safe and sound. If you do not leave a username, password, or any other kind of access information behind for your family they may lose out on thousands of dollars if not more which you may own in cryptocurrency. Therefore, especially if you own cryptocurrency it is wise to plan for your digital assets by allowing them to remain safe online but to notify your family how to access them in an emergency.
We have all heard the statistics about how frequently Americans are victims of identity theft and unauthorized access to financial accounts online. I am willing to bet that every single one of us has either had our debit card, credit card, financial accounts, or social media profiles hacked into by a person with bad intentions. While there is no way to eliminate the risk of this happening to you and your family there are ways for you to minimize that risk. Especially after you have passed away the chances of this occurring are high. Therefore, you can take into consideration planning your estate and then determining how best to protect your digital footprint now and in the future.
To that point, even if your will does need to be probated having a will makes it much simpler for an executor and a probate court judge to coordinate efforts to make sure that your beneficiaries can receive property of yours as easily as possible. Depending upon the size, variety of assets, and other circumstances related to your estate, you may need to go through the probate process. While no one looks forward to something like this it is better to have a will than to not have engaged in financial and estate planning at all. Consider the possibilities if you go through the estate planning process and are therefore able to help your family receive property as soon as possible after your passing. This will allow them to mourn your loss and place their focus on more important things than online accounts and finances.
Do not forget that there are benefits for you on an individual level when it comes to planning out your estate regarding digital assets. For all the concern and anxiety that you may have right now you can wipe those away by seeing to it that you have a plan regarding this subject. Do not assume that everything will work out in the end or that your family can handle these matters after you have passed away. Rather, it is a better plan for you to see to it that you act while you are still able and implement a plan that can benefit your family and provide you with the peace of mind that you desire in the present.
A step-by-step breakdown of how to include digital assets in your estate planning
At the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we want to provide you with as much information as possible so that you can make well-informed decisions for yourself. We do not take it for granted that you may have never drafted a will before. Therefore, we will get into some basic steps you can implement to quickly begin the estate planning for your digital assets.
First, you should perform a basic, simple inventory of your digital estate. What sort of online assets do you own or possess, in other words? You can go through social media, bank statements, credit reports, and anything else that may detail an online account for you. It is important to identify login names, passwords, and any other information that an executor or family member may need to access your account. Using a legal pad and a pen is enough to be able to compile a basic inventory.
When you create a will you will name a specific person to be your executor. This person will read your will and then follow through on your wishes as far as how you want your property to be distributed. He may also need to probate the will depending upon the size or makeup of your estate. In addition, you should have a person who can go through your online profiles, accounts, and wallets to round up all your property after you have passed away. This is a person who you should trust and someone with good organizational tools and the ability to follow instructions. Also, the person should have a basic ability to use a computer and perform digital due diligence.
Once you have performed an inventory of your digital assets you can take those assets into your overall estate plan. You should be very specific about the location and purpose of these accounts. Be sure to include account numbers to assist in identifying those accounts. Whatever you can do to make that identification process easier should be undertaken. Remember that someone who has likely never entered any of your accounts or tried to find any of your information online will be doing so. Much of the time the person will be trying to do so on your computer. As a result, it is a good idea for you to try and be as clear as possible in completing this step of the process. Once you have done this work and updated your will you should periodically review it to make any changes that may be necessary. What you want to avoid is a situation where you leave an out-of-date will in place for an extended period.
Next, you should perform some basic research into what services are available to you as far as protecting your digital assets. There are programs online that can store your login information instructions for others and any documents related to your online and digital assets. Once you can go through the effort of doing this then the person who is charged with maintaining your online information will have a much easier go of things because all your information will be in one place and the chances that everything has been kept safe will increase dramatically.
You may also want to look at the different social media platforms and other online services that you take advantage of to determine whether there is information that you need to be aware of as far as how to keep your material safe. Different websites have different policies in place for maintaining information on people who have passed away. You should do your best to make sure that any of your profiles are not falling out of compliance with the rules for that specific website or social media platform. There may even be the ability for you to name a person to whom you permit to access your account if you pass away.
There are also different tools that you can examine and utilize to keep your digital assets safe. For instance, if you do not already do this you should have a unique password set up for each account that you use. Some of us get into the habit of using the same password for all our accounts. While this is certainly easier to do and simpler to remember it is not the best path for you to take. Rather, you should consider using a unique password wherever possible and then using a service that can encrypt or keep safe all the different passwords that you utilize. You may even choose to go the extra mile and keep a hard copy of your passwords, accounts, and other relevant information inside of a physical location like a safe.
Closing thoughts on securing your digital assets
Every person reading this blog post has a different set of circumstances impacting their life and affecting their ability to plan their estate. There is no set way to go about any of the steps that we have covered in today's blog post. However, there is one piece of information that applies to everyone reading this blog post. That being that you can seek out experienced estate planning counsel before doing any of the steps listed here today.
Although we hope that you will be able to utilize this material sooner rather than later it could certainly be the case that your situation demands greater attention and assistance from someone who has worked in the estate planning field for many years period this is where the experienced estate planning attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan could come in handy for you and your family. If any of the information contained in this blog post gives you a reason to pause or if you are concerned about the specific circumstances that you face, then please reach out to our office today. We thank you for reading this blog post and look forward to speaking to you in the future.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post please do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed estate planning attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas estate planning as well as how your family may be impacted by the filing of a probate case.