Among the many aspects that compound wealth planning, the transfer of wealth is a particularly special one. It is where we express the material legacy we want to leave our loved ones after our passing away.
According to a survey by Angus Reid Institute, only 58%1 of Quebeckers have a will in place. If you are one of them, you are ahead in living a financially orderly life. However, in the age of technology, it’s no longer enough to organize the disposal of your financial assets, real estate holdings and personal possessions solely. Nowadays, it’s increasingly critical to consider your digital legacy.
When we talk about digital assets, we are referring to all information in a binary format with the right of use. In other words, any information you produce in digital form. This includes text, images, documents, multimedia content, etc. A recent book on the subject called Your Digital Undertaker2 by Sharon Hartung recognizes the importance of these assets in the following way: “The world has gone digital, and so have our estates. Everyone needs a will, and in the information age your estate now includes your entire digital life and footprint.”
Managing the administrative affairs of a loved one who has recently deceased can be an excruciating task. Now consider how incredibly complicated it could be when the assets are intangible, you don’t know what they are, where they are, and you don’t have the passwords and other access information.
In the words of New York trusts and estate attorney Alison Besunder3: “Twenty years ago, all an executor needed to do was collect the mail for three months and they’d have everything they need. As we move into a paperless, digital society everyone keeps their critical information in their heads.”
Digital Legacy Plan
Angela Crocker and Vicki McLeod are co-authors of the Digital Legacy Plan4, a book that provides guidance on how to plan what to do with your digital footprint after death.
There are several issues to be aware of if you want a comprehensive estate planning process in the digital age. The following are some basics tasks you can start with:
- Make an inventory of your digital assets.
- Update your will if you have one – or write one if you do not – being sure to grant your executor control over your digital accounts after death.
- Ensure that your executor is empowered to inform banks and credit unions (Caisses Populaires) about your passing so that accounts can be frozen or dealt with accordingly.
- Consider setting a legacy contact on Facebook. Your chosen contact would be able to control your social media after death.
- Know that you can have an inactive account manager on Google, which reaches out to a trusted contact if an account is dormant for more than a few months.
Be aware that until your executor gives your ﬁnancial institution notice, automatic pre-authorized withdrawals and investment activity will continue as usual. Not only can this cost your estate money, but it also demonstrates that our digital legacies are turning out to be as real as the kind we hold in our hands.
As we always say, a well-prepared plan can reduce anxiety, while ensuring both your material and digital legacy live long years in the hands of those you love.