Tips to Create a Digital Estate Plan

So much of our lives these days is handled electronically. We bank and invest online. We send emails and texts from multiple accounts. We blog or vlog and post photos on social media.

But what will happen to this extensive digital footprint when we're gone? Heirs can discover that they don't know about these accounts or have clear authority to manage them. And the fate of these online assets can also depend on the type of account, terms of service, and state law.

How can you make things easier on your heirs — and make sure your online accounts are managed the way you want? By creating a digital estate plan. Here's how:

Take inventory. Compile a list of all your online accounts. For each entry, include the username and password. Make sure you update the list if you change passwords.

Beside each account listed, state what you want to happen to it. For example, you might want your social media accounts deleted, but your favorite cat videos transferred to a friend.

Choose a digital executor. You'll need to share the location of the list with a trusted person, sometimes called a digital executor, who will carry out your wishes.

But even the best-laid digital estate plan can encounter glitches. A website's term of service, for instance, might only permit the original user to access the account.

In response, almost all states in recent years adopted a uniform law providing legal authority for a fiduciary, such as an executor, to have limited access to electronic communications. Under the law, executors can't read the communications, such as texts and emails, unless given permission to do so in a will. But they can view dates and addresses to help track down assets.

Check site instructions.  Online services are also beginning to offer tools through which you can designate heirs and authorize account access. For example:

  • Facebook's "Memorialization Settings" enables your account to be deleted upon death. Facebook also allows you to designate someone as your "legacy contact," who will manage your account after it's been turned into a memorial page.  
  • Google's "Inactive Account Manager" permits you to provide contact information for up to 10 people who will be notified when your account becomes inactive for a certain period. You can give these contacts access to your Google account or opt to have it deleted.

Important reminder: A digital estate plan is not a substitute for a broader, more in-depth estate plan or beneficiary designations for your retirement savings account. It's important to update your beneficiary designations after any major life changes to make sure the money will go to the person you want to inherit the account. Review the beneficiary designations on all of your ICMA-RC accounts, including your 401, 457, and 403(b) plan accounts and any IRAs; also check the survivor designations if you have a VantageCare Retirement Health Savings account.

You'll need to review and update the beneficiary designations separately for each of your ICMA-RC accounts. Log in to your ICMA-RC account, then click on the Beneficiaries option on the dropdown menu next to the plan of your choice on the home page.

Please note: The contents of this publication provided by ICMA-RC is general information regarding your retirement benefits. It is not intended to provide you with or substitute for specific legal, tax, or investment advice. You may want to consult with your legal, tax, or investment adviser to review your own personal situation. Some of the products, services, or funds detailed in this publication may not be available in your plan. This document contains information obtained from outside sources and it references external websites. While we believe this information to be reliable, we cannot guarantee its complete accuracy. In addition, rules and laws can change frequently.

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