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Do you use Facebook, Paypal or eBay? Do you store photographs, music or other personal files “in the cloud”? Do you receive paperless statements from your bank or investment accounts? These are just a few of the many ways that people use the Internet every day to store information and manage their affairs. Unfortunately, these online assets are often overlooked when it comes to estate planning. 

As with physical belongings, digital assets can hold both financial and sentimental value, both for yourself and for your heirs. Unlike many physical belongings, however, digital assets may be impossible to for your loved ones to locate and access after your death if you do not leave specific instructions in your estate plan.

One of the first steps toward planning your digital estate is to make a list of all of your online accounts. Among others, these may include email accounts, social networking profiles, financial accounts, online subscriptions and buyer/seller profiles for commercial websites.

By creating an inventory of your online accounts, you are letting your heirs know what to look for and where to find it. Of course, in order to gain access to these accounts, they will also need your login information and passwords. And, to make sure that your wishes are carried out, they will need instructions on what you would like done with each different account.

As with many other estate planning considerations, these specific issues can be addressed in a variety of ways according to your needs. The best approach for your situation depends on variety of factors, including the nature of your digital assets and the degree of confidentiality you wish to maintain during your lifetime.

Source: CNBC, “Protect online assets with a digital estate plan,” Thomas Henske, May 19, 2014