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The Digital Age: Securing Digital Assets and Cyberwarfare
As you prepare your estate plan, you need to address a new kind of asset you might not have thought about: digital assets. These assets are accounts accessed online and data in platforms like Apple, Yahoo, Google, and others. Digital assets are mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and personal computers. Digital assets are also the platforms you use to stay connected with friends and family.
Besides preserving assets management, hackers’ and thieves’ protection is more important than ever, as assaults are multiplying geometrically.
What is at stake?
You must take steps now to secure digital assets and delegate access information (log-ins), so your executor can locate and save family photos, take down social media pages, gain control of email accounts or sell the website addresses. In short, you need to protect your digital assets from being shut down involuntarily and inaccessible to your loved ones.
Why are these assets different than tangible assets?
An estate executor could count on uncovering accounts while searching through boxes of paperwork and old files in the past. Usually, a bill or two would arrive in the mail to alert the executor regarding an unknown account. With more online banking and digital financial statements, even finding accounts without your help can be very difficult for your loved ones. Digital assets are a lot harder to find than tangible assets, and there is a real risk that years of data, valuable files, or photos could be lost easily – and forever.
Can you protect your digital assets?
Many lawsuits against big tech companies have been brought by families trying to get photos, emails, videos, and business records of their loved ones. Some companies automatically delete accounts and data if there is an extended period of inactivity. Your family could lose legacy information if you do not include digital assets in your estate plan.
While on the subject, pay attention to multiple and varied methods of backing up data. The rash of assaults on businesses, schools, and personal accounts with phishing schemes, hacking, and randsomware attacks has become daily events with more sophisticated plans. We are actually at cyberwar, and the victims are very close to home.
Start with a complete inventory.
A digital asset inventory helps your executor or surviving spouse gain access to your accounts. You should not include your digital inventory in your will. That could lead your digital assets to become part of the public record if your estate goes through probate. The inventory needs to include the digital asset’s web address, your username, and password if there are security questions used to confirm that the user is permitted to have access, including the questions and the answers in your inventory.
Many banks will text a security code to a user’s cell phone or send an email to their computer to verify that the person accessing the account is the owner. Part of your digital asset estate plan should include log-in information to your cell phone and computer, so your executor may access these security confirmations.
A handful of digital platforms, like Facebook and Google, have started to provide users a means of establishing an alternate contact in the event of their death. This is not yet a common practice, so you will need to prepare your digital assets in advance.
One helpful tool to consider is password management and storage vendors, like “LastPass,” which will remember and monitor your passwords and sites.
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