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Your E-Life After Death: How to Estate Plan Your Digital Assets

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Your house, your car, your … Bitcoins?

In our increasingly digital world, it’s not only your physical property that holds value, it’s also the assets you’ve built up online. That includes money you hold in online-only accounts like PayPal, as well as files like your Kindle e-books and iTunes music. Important stuff—and yet, it’s often overlooked in estate plans.

According to data from online security company McAfee, online users across the globe value their digital assets at more than $35,000, including items like personal records, career information, hobbies and projects and entertainment files. So how can you make sure those are bequeathed to your intended beneficiaries in the event of your death?

Unfortunately, the world of digital estate planning is still new and doesn’t have a lot of clear-cut regulations. Privacy laws and many providers’ terms of service make it difficult for anyone besides you to access an account.

Still, there are measures you can take to increase the chances that your loved ones can access your online accounts or receive your digital assets the same way they would receive your money, jewelry or an art collection. You can actually appoint a digital executor in your will, according to this New York Times article, who would be the person to carry out your wishes for anything you hold online.

Foremost, you should keep an inventory of all your accounts, says this MarketWatch expert, including those log-in IDs and passwords (which should always be kept in a secure place). Your digital executor should know where to access that information, or you can use a service like PasswordBox to transfer your online information to her upon your death.

Next, make sure you detail exactly what you want to happen with your digital assets, including things like your social media or email accounts. Do you want your Twitter and LinkedIn pages to be deleted? Would you prefer a blog you write to stay up? Who should receive any virtual currency you have? Make sure you provide as much detail as possible about what you want to happen.

And finally, be up to speed with the service terms for your accounts. Their rules may actually trump some of the plans you hold in your digital estate plan, and many already have options for what to do with your account after your death. For instance, Google has an Inactive Account Manager tool that will let you notify people you designate if your Google accounts—like Gmail, YouTube or Blogger—go inactive for too long. Facebook can delete a deceased person’s account or memorialize a user’s timeline.

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Reprinted with permission from LearnVest. LearnVest and SunTrust Bank are independent entities and not legally affiliated. LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies. LearnVest, Inc., is wholly owned by NM Planning, LLC, a subsidiary of The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company.

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