Money Matters: Five ways to protect your online assets

07/16/2014 1:14 PM

07/16/2014 1:26 PM

What is a digital asset? It is anything you can access online via your computer, tablet, phone or other device that holds emotional or financial value to you. For example, your email and social networking accounts may be emotional assets to you and/or your loved ones. Your login information for your insurance and bank accounts would be considered financially related digital assets, along with electronically stored tax returns, among other items.

According to recent research by The Pew Research Center, approximately 87% of American Adults use the Internet today. That number has almost doubled since the year 2000. As the onset of “The Cloud” has taken place, many individuals are relying heavily on the Internet when it comes to storing and accessing their important documents, financial or otherwise.

Internet services such as Dropbox and Google Drive make it extremely easy for you to store your information so that you may access it anywhere at any time. You may even share files or folders with others, such as your financial planner, so that they may have the most up-to-date information (i.e. tax returns) to provide quicker, more efficient services to you.

While keeping your digital assets safe from hackers is a concern, it is equally important to consider how to keep track of all your online accounts and the various log-ins to those accounts. Now, more than ever, these assets need to be discussed and included as part of your overall estate plan. Below is a list of five tips to help protect your online assets and help ensure they become part of your estate plan:

1. Make a List

Start by creating a spreadsheet (or writing down) all of your accounts by institution/company name, type of account (bank account, insurance company, social media account, etc.), user name and password. If the website has special access codes or identity questions, write those down too. Don’t forget to include information that grants access to your computer, tablet and phones and other devices, too.

2. Use Online Protection Software

Take that list and make use of software to protect all of your digital assets. Services such as Lastpass, 1Password and PasswordBox help store all of your login information for the many sites you visit on a daily basis. These services use strong encryption to protect your passwords and also generate lengthy, tough-to-crack passwords for every account you have. The premise is that you only need to remember one password from here on out.

3. Two-Step Verification

Utilizing this security feature, if someone were to get ahold of your username and password (your first step), they will be directed to a second step in which they will need to use a code such as a six-digit code that only you can access via an app called Google Authenticator or something similar. You can set it so that Google remembers your own devices so that you don’t have to do this every time you log into a website; but the benefit is that if your information is stolen, it will be much harder for a hacker to login to your email accounts, Dropbox, Evernote and even Facebook (which all work with Google Authenticator) as they most likely won’t have access to your security code application.

Note that two-step verification is usually not enabled by default. It will take some work for you to ensure that your accounts have this option enabled but that work is well worth the your time to help ensure your documents are safe. Ask your financial planner about this during your next meeting, as they may be able to help you set this up.

4. Ensure Digital Assets are part of Your Estate Plan

Now that you have all of your digital assets listed and have created a strong security system it is time to ensure that your digital assets are part of your estate. This is important because you want your loved one’s and especially, your Executor to know where to locate everything quickly. Having done the above, you will easily be able to provide this information to your attorney so that they may help draft a Will, Trust, or some other form of document that your attorney believes is necessary that includes your digital assets.

Also, do make sure that you express any confidential wishes you may have that you would like to keep private from any family and friends and indicate how you’d like that handled.

5. Know your State’s Laws

Every state has various estate planning laws. You should consult with your attorney regarding the laws in your state around planning for digital assets within your estate. Not every state has laws in place that allow your Executor or digital asset representative to access your online information.

The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act has been a work in progress over the past two years to help put in place a law allowing fiduciaries the authority to access, copy, and control digital assets for someone.

In summary, start by making a list of all your online accounts and login information. Take that information and use online protection software to help create strong passwords and which gives you only one strong password that you have to remember. Add two-step verification wherever you can. Consult your attorney and discuss if and how your digital assets are part of your overall estate plan. Lastly, ask your attorney to discuss your state’s law regarding digital assets and how that may impact your Executor’s ability to do his or her job appropriately.

Derek Lawson, a CFP® Candidate for Certification, is a Staff Financial Planner at Sonas Financial Group, Inc., in Kansas City, MO. He is also a Master’s of Financial Planning Student at Kansas State University and serves on the Board of the Greater Kansas City Financial Planning Association chapter as a Director-at-Large. He may be reached at 816-753-2210, ext. 2 or by email at dlawson@sonasfinancial.com

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