What Everyone Forgets When It Comes to Estate Planning

Sure, you've got your physical assets accounted for, but have you considered the digital assets you've accumulated, including reward points?

I’m a technology management adviser who now works in the estate planning field, helping estate advisers figure out how to deal with the digital lives and digital footprints of the recently deceased. It’s made me all too familiar with how the digital world has permeated our lives. Nowadays, we own a new set of assets, digital assets, that include our email, loyalty points, online access, social media accounts, gaming points, travel rewards, and, in some cases, our crypto-currency assets.

Estate Planning in the 21st Century

Similar to physical assets, digital assets must be accounted for in estate planning because they have either financial or emotional value. Lots of us save up loyalty points in a variety of programs, and if we don’t get around to using them before we die, we likely have wishes about who should get them. Those wishes need to be documented the same way we document our wishes for our physical assets. All of our assets, digital and physical, should be inventoried, expressed, and captured in our will and estate documents.

The Trouble With Digital Assets

For a number of reasons, digital assets, unlike physical assets, have a little more complexity upon our passing. Firstly, they may not be readily visible online, and it may be hard for your executor to find them. But for starters, your executor needs to know they exist. Secondly, even if the executor knows these assets exist, many of the online account providers have Terms of Service or usage conditions that prohibit another individual’s access upon death, even if they are our executor. We readily agree to these terms when we sign up for these services.

CTV’s Jackie Dunham reviewed the terms of a number of different loyalty programs in her article, “What Happens to Your Loyalty Program Rewards When You Die?” and, of the loyalty programs she assessed, each had different provisions in terms of what happens.

Unfortunately, the topic of our digital assets upon death is relatively new and not a lot of people have wrapped their heads around this yet. As consumers, we are hawkish about our purchases, conscientious about saving where we can, and make buying decisions about which retailer we choose as a result.

Less than 50 per cent of Canadians have a will, and in my view, too many have a “we don’t care about what we don’t know” attitude about estate planning.

Well, it is time to get informed. If we’re going to have to say goodbye to paper coupons, at least let’s fight for the right to pass on the reward points to whom we wish.

Take Control of Your Own Estate Planning

What you can do to address your digital assets in estate planning:

  1. Create a list of digital assets that if lost or missed upon your death, would be devastating.
  2. Write down your wishes or preferences for those digital assets. Read the Terms of Service from the digital custodians.
  3. Take that list to your legal adviser and discuss with them the best way to address these assets in your will and estate plan.
  4. Once your will and estate plan are updated, sit with your executor and have a conversation about your wishes.

If this list looks familiar, it should. These are exactly the same set of steps that are recommended in estate planning for your physical assets, such as your investments and bank accounts. In the digital age, the job of the executor just got a little harder because in all likelihood they won’t have a paper trail to follow.

More so now than ever, I would encourage all Canadians to get a will—and prepare their chosen executor to handle the added role of digital executor.

Sharon Hartung is the author of “Your Digital Undertaker: Exploring Death in the Digital Age in Canada.” Connect with Sharon at www.yourdigitalundertaker.com or on Twitter, @UndertakerTech.

Next, check out the ultimate guide to end-of-life planning.

Originally Published in Our Canada