The other night I was watching the news when a segment entitled "Digital Afterlife" came on. I know it's a little weird but I get excited whenever I see estate planning discussed in public.
From the title, I suspected that it was going to be about what is affectionately referred to as "digital estate planning." Digital estate planning is essentially planning for our online lives.
The news segment was a little disappointing because it mostly concentrated on planning to make passwords accessible to our loved ones in the event of our passing. By making the passwords available, our loved ones can access accounts like email, social media, eBooks, music, credit card and cloud storage for things like files and pictures.
Now don't get me wrong, keeping passwords accessible in the event of your death or incapacity is important, and I mean really important. However, it's just not enough. That's where digital estate planning comes in.
Several years ago I attended a seminar on digital estate planning. I left the seminar thinking this is it. This is the future of estate planning.
Since that time, I have added digital estate planning to most of my estate plans. For example, my standard powers of attorney and trusts and now include a provision specifically authorizing the attorney-in-fact and successor trustee, respectively, to access digital assets and accounts.
Provisions like that allow a fiduciary to have access to our digital lives during our lifetime.
However, let's not forget about our digital lives after our deaths. The news segment covered keeping passwords organized and accessible. I take it a step further. I include a provision in most of my wills that is similar to my trust provision. Indiana has a code section to address a personal representative's access to a decedent's digital lives, but I add it anyway. You don't really have control over the Indiana Code but you do have control over your will, so I set it out.
Now some of you might be thinking, who cares. But just take a moment and think about it. Maintaining a digital presence certainly isn't the exception anymore. In fact, I'm surprised when a client tells me they don't do anything on line. I usually follow it up with "Are you sure."
Let me end with a quick personal experience. This month will be the fourth anniversary of my brother's death. My brother was more than 10 years older than I was and lived on the other side of the country, so we didn't talk nearly as much as we should have. Mostly we stayed in touch through Facebook. After his death, his wife started maintaining his Facebook page and I can't begin to tell you how much I love seeing posts about him and pictures of his life. It allows me to still feel connected to my brother. This connection would not be possible if they hadn't planned.