Do You Know Your Digital Assets?

Personal Finance July 20, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®

Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management, Rutgers Cooperative Extension

oneill@aesop.rutgers.edu

The term “digital assets” refers to personal information that is stored electronically on either a computer or an online “cloud” server account. Anyone who uses e-mail on a computer, has a password protected cell phone, uses social media, makes online purchases, or pays bills or does banking online has digital assets.

Digital assets generally require a user name and/or password or PIN to access and can be difficult or impossible to retrieve if someone is incapacitated or passes away. Some digital assets have a monetary value while others have sentimental value. Either way, they are usually very important to the people who create them.

Take the time to record all of your digital assets using the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Digital Assets Inventory Worksheet: http://njaes.rutgers.edu/money/pdfs/Digital-Assets-Worksheet.pdf.  Then keep this information in a safe place and share it with your power of attorney, executor, and other trusted people who would need to have it.  Writing everything down will also help you, personally, keep track of your digital life by itemizing account access details in one place so this information is available when needed.

Below is a list of categories for frequently held digital assets:

  • Electronic Devices- This category includes all of a person’s electronic gadgets including a smart phone, tablet, laptop computer, desktop computer, and external hard drive.

  • Benefit Accounts- Examples include airline miles, Amtrak railroad miles, hotel rewards program points, and online accounts for retailer reward/loyalty programs.

  • E-mail Accounts- Specific examples include Yahoo!, Google Gmail, AOL, Outlook, Hotmail, Juno, and an employer’s E-mail account.

  • Financial Accounts- This category includes bank, credit union, and brokerage accounts, and online access for mutual funds, retirement savings accounts, credit cards, employee benefit accounts, PayPal, and Social Security.

  • Online Merchant Accounts- Included here are accounts that someone creates to make online purchases from any retailer. Specific examples are Amazon, Blair, Chadwicks, eBay, Etsy, Zappos, and Wal-Mart.

  • Organization Accounts- Include here access information for professional societies, membership organizations, and personalized charitable organization donation web pages such as those for American Cancer Society fundraisers.

  • Photography and Music Accounts- These are web sites where people store often irreplaceable family photos and music. Examples include Instagram, Snapfish, Flickr, and a digital music library.

  • Publication Accounts- This category includes online access to newspapers, magazines, and blogs.

  • Social Media Accounts- In this category are various types of social media that often include intellectual property and personal photographs. Examples include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.

  • Video Accounts- This category includes web sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo, that are used to store videos that people create for personal or professional use.

  • Virtual Currency Accounts with Cash Value- Many people have digital currency with real U.S. dollar currency value stored in web sites such as Bitcoin, Farmville, Second Life, and World of Warcraft.

  • Web Site Accounts- This category of digital assets includes domain names, hosting services, online business accounts, and cloud storage sites such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Apple iCloud.

Once you identify your digital assets, what else do you need to do? Consider these three tips:

  • Include specific language in estate planning documents (e.g., will, trust, and power of attorney) that authorizes a fiduciary to handle digital assets as well as tangible assets.

  • Review the “terms of service” for online accounts. For example, some account providers may require a death certificate to access or delete a deceased person’s account.

  • Refer to your list of digital assets in your will, as you would similarly do for a list of untitled personal property. However, do not include it in your will. A will becomes a public document when someone dies

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.