With the explosive use of technology in the last twenty years, how we manage our lives has dramatically changed. When taking stock of their finances, my clients are often surprised at how scattered and complicated their digital assets can be.
What are Digital Assets?
According to Wikipedia, here’s the definition of a digital asset:
… in essence is anything that exists in a binary format and comes with the right to use. Digital assets are classified as images, multimedia and textual content files.
Categories of Digital Assets
Here’s how I generally categorize areas in order to help my clients find their digital assets:
- Computers, Devices & Electronics — we use desktop computers, laptops, tablets (e.g., iPad), smartphones, music players (e.g., iPods) to access all kinds of digital assets like photos, movies, music. For the security-minded, passwords and access codes are needed to view and download them. For smartphone users, take stock of all those apps you regularly use too.
- Email — most people have two email addresses: one for work and one for home. However some of my clients have additional ones they forget about because they rarely access them. For example, if you use comcast for your internet or cable provider, you get a @comcast.net address; it may be needed to set-up your equipment or access an account, but you rarely use it to send email.
- Social Networks — this category is pretty self-explanatory. Besides the biggies — like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — there are many other social networks that may make your list. For example, you might be part of specialty groups on MeetUp, Wiser, Goodreads, etc. You may also be sharing photo albums on Shutterfly or Flickr.
- Finances — this group entails more than just your bank, credit union and investment accounts that you access via the Web or app. It also includes any shopping sites (e.g., Amazon, Zappos, eBay) or money management sites like mint.com or PayPal.
Create a Checklist
Using the category list above, create an inventory of all your assets — images, content, music, videos, etc. Your list should document the following assets, their usernames and passwords:
- Online accounts
- Automated deposits, transfers, debits and withdrawals
- Sites where you have assets like bitcoin, images, videos, product inventory (e.g., eBay, Etsy), domain names, etc.
Designate a Digital Executor (DE)
Your digital executor could be the executor of your will or trust. Whoever you designate as your DE, you’ll provide them your checklist with access info. You can share this document via a cloud-sharing service like DropBox or Drive. The benefit of using a secure cloud-based tool is that you can update the information as things change and those changes are immediately available to those whom you designate. Or, you can provide your checklist on a thumb drive or via a printed copy. Note: check with your estate planning attorney as to what information should accompany your will or trust documents. Work with your lawyer to include your wishes about how you want your digital assets treated in the event of death or incapacitation.
My first piece of advice can be applied generally. Use secure passwords for all your online accounts. If you can remember the password, it’s probably easy for a bad guy (or their bad-guy software) to guess. Consider using a password vault, a service that stores your various usernames and password with encryption. Many of these services are web-based and you can access the vault on your computer, tablet or smartphone.
Secondly, start now. Your digital asset list doesn’t have to be perfect. Your loved ones will be grateful for the information. It’s heartbreaking to see family or friends scramble for access to important accounts during their time of grief. Be proactive and create a list. Share it with a trusted person. Then chip away at finalizing it.
Do you have a digital asset checklist? What unusual item is on it?
Photo credit: Pete