Managing Digital Assets with Online Services

When it comes to next-of-kin laws and managing digital assets, each service functions differently insofar as notifying designated beneficiaries upon death or serious illness or injury. One example, is AssetLock, where beneficiaries can unlock an account by signing in to confirm the death. After the account is unlocked, information and instructions that were created by the user are delivered to the designated beneficiaries.

Price range of these services vary based on the amount of data stored and the number of beneficiaries designated. Services can cost between $1.50 per month to $30 per year to a $300 one-time fee. Like anything, it is important to find a plan that suites your individual needs. If you your estate is straightforward, a simple inventory stored in a secure place may suffice; but those with a more complex estate or with online businesses might consider an online service.

Shelley Walters-Walker, estate settlement services manager at Northern Trust, suggests referencing the digital assets inventory in estate planning documents such as a will or trust. Ask your attorney about including specific language that authorizes an executor or trustee, or in the case of disability, whomever has the power of attorney, to have access to your digital assets.

As it stands, the law is falling behind the fast-moving digital space, resulting in services that maintain their own sets of rules in terms of digital account access. In time, it is likely that the coverage of estate law will grow to include these assets as part of the estate planning process. But until then, address your online assets with your estate planning lawyer while you create or update your will.

The key to managing digital assets is to avoid being overwhelmed at the thought of it.  With a sea of hours spent online we often overlook how many different applications and systems in which we are creating a digital footprint, Walters-Walker says. Take the necessary precautions to ensure your heirs can access your digital accounts, either to collect on them, close them, or notify others of your passing.

Modern technology exists to simply our lives while we are living, but we are learning that without the necessary steps, it could complicate things significantly once we die.


Mr. Witzke practices in the areas of estate and gift tax planning, financial planning, retirement planning, charitable giving, elder law, and small business planning. He focuses on helping clients grow, protect, and transfer wealth efficiently. Mr. Witzke is a past president and board member of the Financial Planning Association of Michigan, a member of the board of directors for Leadership Oakland, and a member of the planned giving advisory committees of Wayne State University and the Community House in Birmingham. Follow Mr. Witzke on Twitter @gr8estatelawyer.