Map Your Digital Assets Before It's Too Late

Leaving your loved ones online access best prepares them in the event of your death

Think about your online footprint: bank accounts, credit cards, investment portfolios, life insurance policies, peer-to-peer payment service accounts, and, if inclined, cryptocurrency holdings.

Then there are deeds, licenses and certificates. Don’t forget medical records and health-tracking services like Fitbit. Plus any online subscription service, such as Netflix, with a recurring payment. Not to mention the stuff with sentimental value. Your smartphone, laptop and social media accounts may be packed with photographs and memoir-worthy data.

All of these are digital assets, which means they all need to be accounted for in an estate plan.

“More and more people are keeping vital information about themselves and their assets in digital formats,” says M. Kent Olsen, an estate planning and probate attorney with an eponymous firm in Denver. “It’s important for their estate to have access.”

For Colorado residents, however, there’s one document that’s almost worthless in digital form: your will. 

“Under Colorado law, you have to reduce a will or testamentary document into a written, handheld form,” says Olsen. He notes that digital facsimiles of signed documents are sometimes permitted when physical documents are unavailable. “Colorado does allow probate of what they call a lost will, if you can convince the court that the person had a will that they didn’t intend to revoke,” he says. 

Once you’ve made a list of all your digital assets, it’s important to let your estate planner and beneficiaries know that these assets exist—and how to find them.

“My most organized, diligent clients will frequently type out information on people to contact, information on assets, and where the information is located,” says David Kirch of Kirch, Rounds, Bowman & Deffenbaugh in Aurora. He recommends keeping this information with your other estate documents, such as your original will or power of attorney.

It’s valuable to make these arrangements even if you’re young and healthy. “We have a situation like that right now where our client’s daughter was severely injured—a brain injury from a fall,” says Kirch. “We’re trying to get information for the client from friends of their daughter.”

Providing a clear map to your assets may also help keep skeletons in your digital closet hidden. “People have found stuff on digital devices that either they or the family probably didn’t want to find,” says Olsen. 

If you want certain documents destroyed or certain accounts closed, however, you will need to appoint a personal representative to handle those issues. “It wouldn’t be the attorney’s area of responsibility or authority to do that,” says Kirch. 

Be aware, too, that as recently as 2017, Colorado revised its statutes concerning digital assets—specifically privacy protections. “You’d have to authorize your personal representative to have access to your digital assets to be able to access the information there,” Olsen says. “It’s good to let them know that there are, in advance, things that can be located on the digital assets—bank balances, things of that nature.” 

In the end, passwords may be the most valuable digital assets you own, because they are the keys to everything else. “We don’t ask for them, because most people would be a little bit concerned about just putting that information out there,” says Kirch. “But it’s really important to keep them somewhere where family members, or whoever is handling things, can gain access.”

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of estate planning, wills, trusts, and probate and estate administration.

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