Digital Assets in Your Estate Plan

Protecting Digital Assets

As more and more people migrate their banking, purchases and private activities online, we become ripe for the taking by the unscrupulous. How can this impact my mother? Well let’s just follow yesterday’s headlines.

Over 6 million linked in passwords were posted online in China, for others to hack through. Why does it matter who can get to our linked in persona? Well it’s not to access our work history and resumes. It’s the value in a linked in password that is likely the same as the password we use for online banking and other valuable web venues.

If you’re like most people, you use the same few passwords for all of your online activities. So when one is discovered, it may be an open door to your other online activities including credit cards, banking and financial transactions. When you pass away, these online accounts are at risk.

How Can You Protect Yourself?​

The biggest issue may be who you can trust with this type of sensitive information. Sure, you may not want your kids to know about your online gambling or match.com activities. But you want someone to have the sense to cut off your online banking when you’re no longer around. In my family, my ultra savvy computer daughter with an infallible memory knows every password and secret code, in addition to how I think in case alternatives have to be guessed. I am lucky to have someone to trust.

You’ve got to pick someone and that may be the hardest part of protecting your online life.ant my online banking stopped. Once selected, entrust that person with what they need to know.Here’s how to get started:

  • STEP ONE: Make a list of the web sites you frequent.
  • STEP TWO: Audit your passwords. If the same passwords are used for accounts with financial implications, change your approach. Make sure your financially sensitive information is protected with passwords not also in use to get coupons from, e.g.,CVS, Michaels or Staples.
  • STEP THREE: Keep this list in a place where your executor or next of kin can find it if they need to.

Avoiding a Mess​

As an estate planning attorney, I make it a point to cover this ground with clients. Just as it’s hard to track down assets where a decedent didn’t keep good records, it would take a forensic hacker to back-peddle and determine your important online activities, without you there to tell them about them. It’s a lot easier to draw the road map when the person giving directions is beside you.

Alongside the typical estate planning checklist, which can be found at: (http://www.sparkeresq.com/wp-content/uploads/SGP_Estate_Questionnaire.pdf), create a list of important online access information and keep it with your other important documents – like deeds, marriage licenses etc. Be sure to update it and give your executor or next of kin an idea of other passwords you may be using in case one or two don’t work.

It’s common knowledge that door locks are changed when someone dies to prevent a thief from breaking in when an obituary posts the funeral specifics. That same obituary can signal a “change in status” for web hackers who have your info, but haven’t used it yet. While it is likely you can win the argument with the bank or credit card company if a hacker steals funds after someone dies, but if you’re like me, I’d rather avoid the hassle.