For those of us who’ve lived a while, we remember the “little black book”—the place you kept important contact information before the technology revolution. If you’re caring for elderly parents or you think that’s a possibility, encourage mom and dad to keep a little black book, not for dating purposes, but to help you take care of them in this digital world we live in.
Even for older folks, digital plays a part in their lives. Of all my clients, I only have one who doesn’t have a computer. And even though seniors may not be tech-savvy, they may have Facebook accounts or other social media, their Social Security checks are deposited directly into their bank accounts, they may do online banking or have utility payments drafted from their bank account or they shop on Amazon. Having a “little black book” that contains information and passwords about their digital world can make caring for them substantially easier.
Handling mom and dad’s digital assets can be a problem because of that agreement no one reads when they set up digital accounts—the terms of service agreement. Most people scroll through it without reading it and just click “agree” at the bottom. Buried in that agreement is language that prohibits anyone other than the account owner from having access to those accounts.
Fortunately, all 50 states now have laws that allow naming a digital assets fiduciary, giving them authority to access digital assets and digital devices on your behalf as dictated in a will, trust, or power of attorney. If there is a clear set of instructions listing the way you want those digital assets distributed, those wishes supersede the terms of service provisions of each digital asset account.
Creating Your Digital Plan
Create or revise your estate planning documents to include digital assets and information. All estate documents should authorize someone to be agent for your digital life and executor for your digital estate. You give authority for a person of your choosing to “access, control, use, cancel, deactivate, delete or dispose of Digital Accounts, Digital Assets and Digital Devices.” This makes sure your caregiver has legal authority to act on your behalf.
Inventory all digital assets. Put them into categories such as communication (email, contacts); rewards programs (hotels, airlines, restaurants; shopping (Amazon, Ebay, any online shopping); online data storage sites (iCloud and other cloud-based back-up sites); finances (online payments, banking or investment accounts, crypto currently); social media (Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, SnapChat); gaming sites; and fantasy leagues (especially if there is real money involved).
Write a letter of instruction that describes what you want done with your social media accounts? Do you want them memorialized or shut down? Who gets airline points or bonus dollars at department stores? Who has access to emails, texts, and social media sites, and what should they do with them? Where do pictures go? Be specific so there’s no question what you want.
If you have a corporation or an entity like an LLC, write a succession plan that includes business digital assets.
Once Your Digital Plan is In Place
Review accounts regularly and maintain an updated list of login information and passwords. Don’t keep that list in a document on your computer titled “passwords.doc” or in your email account. Consider creating an online vault for sensitive information. You can use a password management tool that creates, remembers and fills in passwords automatically. Then give your digital fiduciary the master password to that service. That keeps passwords out of your will, which becomes public record when you die.
Use more than one password. Using a single password is a major identify theft risk. Keep your passwords fresh and varied or use a password manager.
1 in 3 caregivers say locating passwords and accounts is a major issue. 49% of caregivers don’t have authority to ask banks, credit card companies and other providers for information about accessing the digital accounts of the person they’re caring for. It can all be avoided by creating a well thought out digital assets plan.
This article is intended for information only and should not be considered as tax, legal or financial advice.