We all realize that our life portrayed in Social Media – eBay, Facebook, Twitter, Snapfish, YouTube, Amazon, Yahoo, PayPal, LinkedIn, iTunes, Tumblr, etc., and what gives us our lifeline to those sites, i.e., Usernames and Passwords, could very likely be lost forever if we perish without first drawing up the aptly named, Social Media Will. I didn’t even mention your account at Vanguard, Charles Schwab or Chase Online Banking. Is this what the age of the Internet has come to? I mean, Al Gore never shared this fact with us when he created the Internet. Trust me; it’s going to be a great challenge for all of our families to deal this with this one. As I write this column, our darling Lawmakers in Washington D.C. are desperately trying to right this ship and clarify the rules governing the passage of email and social media accounts, and all else of financial value that exists in our individual digital world. Given the fact that we’re going to rely on Congress to sort this out for us I say, “Good Luck.” If you’re fortunate, and have a Financial Advisor as your fiduciary then spring to attention when he or she poses the question – “Have you considered establishing a Digital Asset Trust?”
Let’s take a closer look at what we all most likely take for granted – hey, we’re all immortal, right? Personal Digital Assets would include Photographs, Video Storage, and sharing sites like Flickr and Shutterfly. Social Media Digital Assets include Facebook, email accounts, Twitter, websites and blogs. We also store an awful lot of gigabytes of personal information on websites including bank and brokerage accounts, medical records, and monthly financial statements. Let’s not forget those monthly bills for loans, mortgages, credit cards, and utilities that are delivered to us via email and expected to be paid online and on time. Now realize that some of these accounts are not truly assets, but simply licenses to use a website’s services. Still, somebody besides you better know how to access this information.
Literally speaking, once you’ve finally arrived at your Cloud in the sky, someone with their feet on the ground will have to make some informed decisions. Leave your account open, close the account, convert the account to a memorial account – and what about your email and bills to pay? Oh the tangled web we’ve woven……..
If you want your wishes and directives to count an ounce, you might want to consider creating a Social-Media Will, as the US government is now recommending as part of its advice on Estate Planning. You’re going to need to:
Choose your Digital Executor
•Be clear and succinct on how to handle your accounts
•Create a reference guide
•Complete a digital asset trust document
•Meet with your Financial Advisor and Attorney – the best ones will have already addressed this with you
Your trusted advisors will help you determine if you too should be establishing a trust, or even just an informal agreement containing information about your usernames, passwords, etc., and how you would like your accounts to be handled after you’ve departed on the 5:15. The US Government shares that “planning for the care of your online trail post-mortem presents different issues than planning for money and physical objects. In part this is because our legal regimes and social norms are less solidified in these areas, and, in part because they are actually different animals.”
While we are just beginning to learn more about this subject in the news, planning for digital assets is still very much a developing area within the law. Everyday we’re certain to see more and more cases regarding the rights of the decedent’s family and their hand picked Personal Representative come before Judge Judy. Without the proper Estate Planning all bet’s are off. This is due to the complexities inherent in this area and the lack of clarity. No doubt that the failure to properly plan may lead to unintended consequences for the decedent’s family. Unfortunately, we all know what that means – more delays and more legal expenses. We’re now at that proverbial fork in the road, and without the proper planning we may never go down that path that leads to our digital asset redemption.
Author’s Note: Please consult with your CFP®, Financial Advisor, CPA and/or Estate/Tax/Eldercare Attorney when discussing your financial needs and developing the appropriate personal/business financial plan.
John Politi is Executive Director of the Jewelers for Veterans Foundation, a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit, dedicated to connecting US Military Veterans with training & employment in the jewelry industry – www.jewelersforveterans.org. He holds an MBA in Financial Management, MBA-Advanced Certificate in Health Care Management, Series 65 (Investment Advisor Representative), and successfully completed the required CFP® Financial Planning Educational Program. John would enjoy receiving your feedback and/or questions in regard to your Financial Planning activities, especially, Defined Contribution Programs (401K), 403b, 457, and Pre/Post Retirement Planning – both personal and business. He enjoys active membership with the Financial Planning Association-Greater Hudson Valley, NY, serving on their Pro Bono Committee, as well being a member of ACHE, Healthcare Leaders of NY Chapter, and the 24KT Club of New York. John welcomes your input and can be contacted at, firstname.lastname@example.org , or telephone 212.600.2475.