Stein Sperling: Planning Your Digital Afterlife

Modern estate planning isn’t just about arranging for who inherits your money, real estate, physical belongings, and other assets when you die. Transferring digital assets, such as photos and social media accounts, as well as assets such as cryptocurrency, needs to be addressed in your estate plan. Otherwise, your data – and a lifetime of memories – can be lost. Most of us use our smartphones almost exclusively to interact with others and record our lives. It may be our only camera, portal to social media accounts, and main vehicle for texts and emails. . We often take for granted that we can access this data by simply looking into our smartphones, but what happens when we die? Fundamentally, all this data is just that – data. Without the ability to unlock a smartphone, or log into a social media account, your data can be irretrievably lost.

If you have not made arrangements for their digital assets, you may place additional burdens on your loved ones. To get into your key accounts family members will likely spend hours of time speaking with customer service to regain access. In addition, access itself is no longer a guarantee, and if an account goes dormant for too long, or if payment methods aren’t updated, all the data and possibly a lifetime of your memories may be deleted and lost forever.

Ensuring that your family and friends have access to your smartphone and online accounts after you pass away will prevent your digital assets from being lost or destroyed. Accordingly, below are a few of the more important tools and considerations you can utilize now to help your family members in connection with your digital assets:

Use a Password Manager
Keeping an accurate, offline, up to date list of all passwords may be unrealistic. Many people simply have too many logins, and, occasionally, may be forced to change a password, failing to update the password list. Consider using a password manager instead. A password manager stores passwords across multiple logins, and most password managers allow you to designate an emergency contact should you die or become incapacitated.
Name a Legacy Contact for Online Accounts
Many cloud-based accounts allow you to designate a legacy contact. For example, Apple lets you designate a legacy contact who can access photos, messages, and device backups. Likewise, Google has a “make a plan for your account” feature that kicks in after your account has become inactive for a certain period of time. You can decide what information is shared with your designees. Finally, Facebook also currently allows you to designate legacy contacts.
Make Sure Someone Can Access Your Phone
For most of us, our smartphone is our access point to our digital lives. Even though facial recognition is becoming the norm for daily access, be sure to set a strong PIN or password, and store it somewhere safe. Doing so will save your family the agonizing and very likely unsuccessful ordeal of trying to unlock your phone at what may be a very emotional and challenging time.
Cryptocurrency Considerations
Similar to digital accounts, cryptocurrency is only as valuable as the ability to access it. Unlike social media accounts and your smartphone, however, most crypto exchanges do not permit legacy contacts, nor do they feature an easy password recovery option. Some are now beginning to consider and allow beneficiary designations on some platforms.

For high-value wallets, consider using a professional key storage service, much like a password manager, to securely store access keys. Alternatively, consider making offline, hard copies of your access keys or seed phrases, and keep the copies in a secure location, like a safe deposit box. Finally, consider storing portions of the seed phrase separately.

If you have questions about incorporating digital assets into your estate plan, please contact one of the attorneys in Stein Sperling’s Estates and Trusts Department at (301) 340-2020.

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