In today’s digital age, many individuals live at least a part of their life online. Whether you share your life with others through e-mail, Facebook posts, and tweets, or simply have a number of online, password protected accounts, you’ll want to make plans for the disposition of all of your digital assets in the event of your death or incapacity.
Unfortunately, the laws governing digital assets are not well settled. Only a small number of states have estate laws that specifically cover digital assets, and those laws are relatively new and untested. As a result, you should consult an estate planning attorney for information on how digital assets are handled in your particular state.
For the most part, websites, blogs, and registered domain names are transferable under standard property and copyright laws. However, certain online accounts (e.g., e-mail,
social media accounts) may not be transferable, depending on the site’s terms of
service. Terms of service vary widely from site to site. Some sites will allow a person with the appropriate legal authority to access your accounts upon your death. Others will put your accounts in a “memorial state” or permanently delete your account upon proper notification of your death.
The most important step you can take to protect your digital assets is to include them in your estate plan, just as you would your physical assets. Your first step should be to identify and inventory all of your digital assets. Make a list of where your assets are located and how they are accessed (e.g., username and password). Next, indicate what you wish to happen to your digital assets (e.g., transfer to an heir or terminate) and who will be responsible for carrying out those wishes (e.g., an executor). Be sure to refer to this inventory in your will (but keep it separate since your will eventually becomes public information).
If privacy issues surrounding your digital assets are a real concern, a number of online websites securely store all of your digital asset information and allow you to leave legacy
instructions for a designated beneficiary or executor. The costs of these types of services
vary, depending upon the services offered
What can I do to protect my username and password information from computer hackers?
At one time, computer hackers were viewed as a few rogue individuals who mainly worked
alone. Today, many hackers are part of highly sophisticated networks that carry out well-organized cyber attacks. Unfortunately, these online security breaches can result in your username and password information being compromised.
Whenever you enter your personal information online, you’ll want to make sure that you create a strong password to protect that information. Some tips for creating a strong password include:
• Avoid creating simple passwords that have a connection to your personal identity (e.g.,
date of birth, address) or that can be found in the dictionary
• Create a password that uses a nonsense word/random alphanumeric combination or
an arbitrary, easy to remember phrase with mixed-up character types (e.g., upper/lower
• Don’t use the same password for multiple websites
• Use an online tool that allows you to test the strength of a password
If you have trouble keeping track of all of your password information or if you want an extra level of password protection, you may want to use some type of password management software. There are a variety of password managers on the market. Password managers typically work by using high-level encryption methods to store all of your online usernames and passwords on one secure server, using a single master password.
There are a few things you should consider when choosing a password manager. First, if
you plan on needing your password information for use on various devices (e.g., tablet,
smartphone), you will want to choose a password manager that has mobility features.
In addition, some password managers offer added benefits such as web form fillers, which
can come in handy if you do a lot of online shopping. Other features to look for include
automatic log in and password generator capability.
Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2013