Despite it being inevitable, not many of us enjoy carving time out of our day to think about our passing. When our day comes, we hope we have time to say goodbye to our loved ones and put all our affairs in order. But the future is unpredictable. Creating a Last Will and Testament, however, can help you prepare.
A Last Will and Testament is a document created by you that helps a trusted individual carry out your final wishes, like distributing your assets to your beneficiaries and paying debts.
Aside from the basics, like naming your beneficiaries and leaving behind your property, you can also personalize your Will by adding unconventional beneficiaries, your online persona, digital assets, and your social media accounts.
Find out what questions you should be asking when creating your estate plans in this post.
1. Do I Need to Know My Beneficiaries?
Most people already have their beneficiaries in mind, for example their spouse, children, siblings, or close friend. But what about those of us who have no living relatives or close friends?
It’s actually more common than you might think for people to leave all or part of their estate to alternative beneficiaries. This can be an acquaintance, charity or organization, or even a town, which was the case for Keith Owen who donated over two million to the town of Sidmouth, England and the town’s conservation organization, Sid Vale Association.
And, if that’s not your style, you could always follow Luis Carlos’ example: A wealthy Portuguese man who left his lofty fortune to 70 individuals he randomly selected from the phone book.
While it’s likely that you won’t transfer your estate to a town or to 70 strangers, it’s good to know that there are options for you to choose from. Sit down and create a list of all those—human or not— that you’d like to recognize after you pass away.
2. Can I Include Digital Assets in My Will?
You likely have plenty of online accounts and assets that are blocked by a username and password such as your online banking information, your Amazon or Apple account, services like Netflix or Hulu, and even online payment services such as PayPal. So, what will happen to all those accounts after you die?
For the most part, absolutely nothing. However, you may want reoccurring payments to stop immediately or to have all those accounts closed. To do this, your executor should have any relevant account information.
This can be done by attaching an Online Identity Record to your Will. An Online Identity Record or Online ID, for short, is a document that identifies your account and membership information, including usernames and passwords, for the various online business and services you use. In life, this document can help you sort and organize all of the accounts assigned to your name. In death, this document can help your executor implement your final wishes with respect to those accounts, even if it is just closing them.
In addition, some of your digital assets, such as your loyalty reward points, have financial value. Think of the WestJet Reward points you’ve been collecting for that long overdue trip to Rome or all those free beverages you’ve acquired from your daily Dunkin’ Donuts visit. While you may not be preparing to picket in front of Dunkin Donut’s head office for the right to transfer a free coffee to your heirs, loyalty program points can accumulate to be worth thousands of dollars.
So, what do you do? It’s suggested that you research your loyalty point programs and review the fine print concerning transfers after death. Keep in mind, however, that those policies aren’t always followed, which was the case with the American Airlines’ AAdvantage program. Even though their policy explicitly states accrued miles are non-transferable after death, Laura Nedbal, American Airlines’ spokeswoman indicated that, upon request, documents to enact a transfer can be sent to your beneficiaries. In short, read the fine print but know that sometimes all you need to do is ask.
To account for the various program or policy changes that may occur over time, “use flexible language’” when adding loyalty programs to your Will.
There are other assets you might want to include in your Will like your Apple iTunes and Amazon Kindle accounts. Over the years, you’ve probably spent hundreds of dollars on songs and books, and it makes sense to want to include them in your Will.
Unfortunately, in many situations, this is just not possible. There are rules about whether people can transfer accounts, and usually this also applies to the content within. There are also rules preventing others from using your account, even with your permission.
But—wait—if you can gift a tangible CD or book, why not a digital one? Unfortunately, while you may be able to give away a book, you can’t legally copy it. And what’s more, in certain situations where you’re legally allowed to copy your purchases to another device, for example iTunes, this right expires when you pass away. So, if your beneficiaries need to make a copy of your music in order to listen to it, which is likely the case, they may be out of luck.
Regardless, add it to your Will using flexible language in case one day some stubborn person demands their music be passed down and the policies and laws change for the better.
3. How Do I Include My Social Media Accounts in My Will?
Social media may be the last thing on your mind as you plan your estate. But you probably don’t want all your posts available for your great, great grandchildren to read twenty years from now. There are various options for managing social media accounts after death.
In Facebook settings, for example, you can manage your account by adding a legacy contact—in other words, someone who can manage your Facebook account after you die. Your legacy contact can respond to friend requests, update a profile picture, or pin a post to your profile. Other social media sites, however, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, don’t seem to have similar account management settings. This is where your Online ID will be helpful, especially if you want all those accounts closed right away.
Other sites like DeadSocial help you to create a lasting impression on social media through scheduled posts after you pass away. In their introductory tutorial, DeadSocial suggests your first message tell your family and friends of your passing and that all subsequent messages were created by you “for them to enjoy”.
If you do choose to post after death, be sure to consider how those posts will affect your loved ones. A message from beyond the grave, in theory, may seem pleasant and thoughtful but, in reality, may be damaging to those still grieving your death.
Preparing Your Will
Now that you know that your Will is more than just distributing tangible assets after you pass, you’re ready to create estate plans that suit your needs. Write a list of everything you want to address in your Will, and be sure to include any alternative beneficiaries, digital assets, or social media accounts. By planning now, you can have peace of mind knowing that the fine details have already been taken care of—don’t wait until it’s too late.
How have you personalized your Will?