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Digital estate planning, how to manage your assets before you die

Simple tips to protect your digital assets

Digital estate planning, how to manage your assets before you die

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Music on your computer, books on your tablet and money hooked up to your online bank accounts; you can't manage them after you pass away, so where does it all go?

Nowadays many people have wills to determine what happens to their assets once they die. However, for many that doesn't include their digital assets. Experts say that's a problem, and there a few things you and lawyers can do to handle all of your accounts when you pass on.

"It's not really clear what the law actually is in dealing with your digital assets, and particularly once you pass away," Maureen Kinney an attorney at Johns, Flaherty, and Collins, said.

While there aren't many laws to dictate digital assets, there are some things you can do. First, read the fine print on websites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

"A lot of us when we sign up for these digital assets we hit consent, consent, consent," Kinney said.
It's important to check an online company's policy to see if they allow someone else to cancel your account once you pass on.

"Most of what it says is that only you are allowed to access your account, not anybody else," Kinney said.

Services like Amazon allow a family member to cancel a membership. However, Twitter, Instagram, and Google want a family member to contact them first before doing anything. But experts said things may become more streamlined soon.

"There is some legislation that is trying to have some uniformity throughout the United States," Kinney said.

Second, if a loved one passes away and had an online banking account, an appointed person can present an original death certificate to the bank. Most banks will cancel the account and any online access instantly.

"That is far more coupled to a real physical account, so an online account was just an extension of what we used to do using passbooks," Sasi Pillay, the chief information officer for the University of Wisconsin System.

Third, appoint a successor on a website if possible.

"Some of them like Facebook are starting to allow you to name an agent in the contract who could take over for you," Kinney said.

If a website doesn't give you that option, appoint a successor or agent in a legal document.

"You really should have an agent appointed in writing, if you just tell a family member the company doesn't know that you've done that and there isn't' any real proof that you've done that," Kinney said.

One thing you can do to protect your digital assets right now is grab a pen and paper and write out a list of your online accounts and passwords. Let a family member or someone close know where they are in case anything happens. But be sure to put them in a very private spot to prevent them from being stolen.

It's also a good reminder to check the fine print on websites often, as terms and policies frequently change.

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