Today’s Executor is a Digital Executor



Sharon Hartung

Founder of Your Digital Undertaker®


On May 13, 2021, I was delighted to join RGF advisors and clients for their second virtual event in the RGF “Plan Well. Live Happy” seminar series, where I discussed the ideas covered in my first book, Your Digital Undertaker– Exploring Death in the Digital Age in Canada. As a group, we explored the impact of the pandemic on our digital asset use, the implications of digital assets for estate planning, and the role of the future executor.

Digital asset planning is just another aspect of traditional estate planning. All of us own digital assets and have a digital footprint, and management of our digital assets is just as important in estate planning as managing our physical assets. Our digital estate includes our memories, money, and records, but instead of being paper-based, they’re stored in digital formats.

■ Memories include digitized photos and social media.
■ Money includes electronic access to financial institutions, loyalty points, crypto assets, and ad-and-click revenue from online channels.
■ Records provide the digital trail our executor needs to access during estate administration, including the legally documented instructions for transfer or disposition of our assets. Prior to the Internet, the executor would have accessed the deceased’s home office, and after hunting and searching through files and stacks of paper, they would have found the necessary paper trail. Today, the executor may face a locked screen.

During the event, we posed several polling questions, and our highly engaged audience provided interesting insights into their use of technology:
■ Approximately 40% of the audience were more concerned about their digital files versus other digital assets.
■ More than 60% of the audience used Google’s Gmail.
■ Google has a pre-planning tool called Inactive Account Manager. “Inactive Account Manager is a way for users to share parts or all of their account data or notify someone if they’ve been inactive for a certain period of time.” Less than 10% of the audience were familiar with Google’s Inactive Account Manager and few had set it up. Inactive Account Man- ager can be found in an account’s settings or by searching on help.
■ We discussed blockchain and cryptos and their usage through a coffee card analogy, and the most interesting poll result was that this national Canadian RGF audience preferred independent local coffee shops versus well- known brands.

Although technology is the new player at the estate planning table, the same principles apply to our physical and digital assets. We still must create an inventory – but now that list includes our digital assets. We must legally document our wishes by engaging legal, tax, and estate advice, and discussing our intentions with our executor. The fundamentals of planning, documenting, and communicating apply equally for both digital and physical assets.

Our entire digital estate should be considered in will and estate planning. Here are some pointers to get started:

■ Give your executor the powers to deal with your digital estate. Express your wishes and leave instructions.
■ Spend extra time planning for your top three digital assets. Consider what would devastate you if a memory couldn’t be passed along to a loved one after death.
■ Review your plans with your estate advisor. A legal advisor in your jurisdiction can provide estate planning advice for digital assets.
■ Review the terms of service for online accounts for restrictions and constraints.
■ Provide instructions to your executor for unique digital accounts, such as unregulated crypto currencies where there is no central authority for password resets.
■ Review pre-planning options provided by service providers, such as Facebook’s Legacy Contact and Google’s Inactive Account Manager. Consider naming your executor as contact in these tools, or if you choose someone else, document your plans to avoid confusion.
■ Evaluate converting accounts to business status to leverage additional tools and features.

What should Canadians do to get their digital affairs in order?

Our digital lives are intertwined with our physical lives, and jurisdiction-specific estate laws govern both. Wills and estate planning are unique to everyone, but four common themes apply:

■ Create an estate inventory that includes your digital assets. List your online accounts along with your username and wishes for each, including instructions for the executor.
■ Seek professional estate advice. What the executor can do after death is covered by provincial and territorial jurisdiction- specific estate laws. The laws covering digital assets are new and evolving, and as the tech giants reside in the US, there are likely legal requirements and terms of service constraints that need to be understood.
■ Get tax advice for your digital assets of significant value to avoid your estate facing more taxes.
■ Review your will and your wishes with your executor. Provide instructions needed to execute your intentions in an estate binder, folder, or envelope. If you choose to pass this information along digitally, consider a backup plan.

Digital assets include everything from loyalty points, email accounts, and social media websites to crypto currencies, personal photos, and videos. Just like financial and physical assets, they can have both financial and sentimental value. We’ll be the first generation to consider our use of technology in our estates and explore what happens to these assets when we die, and we learned together that planning for our email and loyalty points is part of estate planning in the digital age.

If you have any further questions about creating a digital asset inventory, digital assets, or estate planning in general, reach out to your RGF advisor. ■

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of RGF Integrated Wealth Management, which makes no representations as to their completeness or accuracy.

Sharon Hartung is the Founder of Your Digital Undertaker®. Sharon’s first book is called, Your Digital Undertaker – Exploring Death in the Digital Age in Canada, which was featured in Reader’s Digest – Our Canada Magazine’s April/May 2021 edition. Sharon’s second book was just released in April, Digital Executor® – Unravelling the New Path for Estate Planning. Sharon is reachable on Twitter @UndertakerTech and via
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