typing on computer

How many times during the day, without even thinking about it, do you use a digital account? Twenty? Fifty? More? Think about it, within the space of just a few minutes you’ll login to your work email, post to your Facebook account, upload files to Dropbox, and check your credit card statement from your banking app. There’s no doubt digital accounts are a regular part of the hum of daily life. A huge amount of your personal and financial information is not only held online, it’s held entirely online, and nowhere else.

hands typing on computer

Just as dying without a will can cause grave stress and even anguish to your loved ones, dying without passing along information and instructions on your digital accounts can cause major headaches. Considering that you may well have dozens or even a hundred different digital accounts, this represents a huge challenge to your executor.

Defined broadly as any multimedia, website login, online account, hardware, and/or software — your digital assets can quickly accumulate and represent a vast amount of information, both personal and professional. (Digital assets encompasses tools for both personal or professional use).

Anything from your Facebook business page to your Paypal account is counted as a digital asset. When you pass away, these accounts will (presumably) need to be accessed by your executor. Which is weird, when you think about it, considering all the time we spend on anti-virus software, reporting spam, and avoiding hacks of our online selves. These accounts will need to be used totaling up all your assets and finalizing your affairs. Your online bank or credit union records will be used for the former. Shutting down your social media profiles will be part of the latter. In any case, an executor needs access.

The law and the online world have had a rocky relationship thus far. There are so many competing principles, including privacy, ownership interests, ability of companies to freely contract with customers, and a probate code that in many ways is more attuned to the 1800s than the 2000s. These clashing concepts means we only now are beginning to codify solutions to the online world issues and problems.

For example, how should the law handle terms-of-service agreements, after one party to the agreement has died? You remember that little box you check every time you update your computer or get a new account. All that small print includes terms-of-service agreements to which you agreed. These agreements, in addition to state and federal privacy laws, forbid unauthorized access to digital accounts.

Person holding phone at table

Enter the 2015 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. (Try saying that five times fast!) This statute’s title is legal speak for, “Here’s what you do with someone’s digital accounts like email and social profiles and financial institution accounts after they die.” It provides (relatively clear) rules so an executor can effectively manage a decedent’s digital accounts without violating any laws (like the terms-of-service agreements).

Iowa is one of the majority of states which enacted the Digital Assets Act, but only recently. Governor Branstad signed Senate File 333, the Iowa Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, on April 20, 2017.

The Digital Assets Act gives you the power to plan for the management and disposition of your digital assets in similar ways to your planning for disposition of tangible property. In case of conflicting instructions, the Digital Assets Act provides a three-tiered system of priorities:

Tier One

Just like a beneficiary on an account trumps what’s written in a will, if a service provider like Google offers a mechanism for the account holder to outline their wishes post-mortem, then that tool is used as the primary instruction. Note that other tools, like Twitter, have a specific policy involving steps like submission of a death certificate by an authorized representative. But, if a digital service offers you the option to set what happens upon your passing—who should be notified or has access to the account—use it.

person on social media

Tier Two

If an online account doesn’t offer any sort of contingency plan, then put directions for digital assets in your will, and in your powers of attorney, and in trust agreements, if applicable. If nothing’s specified with the service provider, then directions in an estate plan are the next, best clear intention. Don’t rely on general definitions of the executor’s powers, or what “assets” mean, to wrongly assume these cover your digital assets. A written statement(s) ideally gives your executor equal access to what you had during life. Considering you could have dozens or even hundreds of online accounts, include an overarching, general statement that includes any account owned by the decedent. Consider using specific instructions for intentions on particular accounts.

You should include these instructions in your estate planning documents even if you’ve designated an account executor with the service provider . . .  it doubles down on your wishes.

Tier Three

If digital assets aren’t accounted for by a service provider tool or in an estate plan, then the determination of how the assets may be dealt with falls to the dreaded service agreement. Such agreements typically prohibit anyone accessing the account aside from the owner.

finance on phone with laptop in background

Easy Steps to Take

Beyond knowing these three tiers of the Digital Assets Act, there are a few (relatively) easy steps you can take to ensure your digital assets are both accessible and accounted for:

  1. Consider a password manager like LastPass. With this tool there’s one password to login and then the executor could see all the sites you use regularly. In a way it’s like a net worth statement of investments . . . but for accounts.
  2. In addition to a password manager, write down an inventory of your accounts and log-in information; keep it secure and updated. Of course, don’t put this login info in your estate plan documents. Give clear instructions to your trusted family member or friend as to where to find this document.
  3. You’ll want to consider what you want your executor to be able to access. Do you want them to be able to read all your private emails and private message chats? If not, you may specify limited access.
  4. This goes without saying, but think long and hard about precisely who you want to have access to your online accounts. Someone may be qualified to be your Financial Power of Attorney agent, but entirely unqualified to handle your digital accounts. You’ll need to consider both trustworthiness and tech savvy and tech aptitude in your decision.

Don’t Just Tweet About It, Talk About It

If you don’t have an estate plan yet, the best place is to start with my Estate Plan Questionnaire. It’s free and provided at no obligation.

If it’s time to update your estate plan to include digital assets, I would love to discuss your situation. Reach out at any time by email at, or on my cell at, 515-371-6077.

25 Days of Giving: Global Trends in Giving 2017 Report

The 2018 Global Trends In Giving report is full of important and valuable statistics for nonprofit professionals. These statistics are not just interesting, but can also impact your donor plans and marketing strategies. But, December is an incredibly busy month with all the year-end fundraising pushes and policy reviews in prep for the coming operating year. So guess what? I read it for you! (You’re welcome.)

The 28-page report, sponsored by Public Interest Registry (PIR) with research completed by Nonprofit Tech for Good, surveyed a global sample of more than 6,000 donors in a time period from April through June of 2018. (It should be noted that although global, the results only represent the views of respondents that read in languages Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish; have access to the Internet, and use email and/or social media.) 

Here are just a few highlighted insights from the report:

  • There are some clear similarities across generations. For instance, Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers all prefer to give online, compared with options like cash, bank/wire transfer, and mail. Furthermore, approximate 14-15% of each generation group gave on #GivingTuesday 2017. Additionally, approximately 56% of donors from each generation group attend fundraising events. 
  • Millennials and Generation X donors are both most inspired to give through social media and their top cause category is children and youth. In comparison, Baby Boomers are most inspired to give through email and their top category cause is health and wellness.

Occassion of tribute gift

  • By gender, women make tribute gifts more often than men (35% v. 21%). However, male and female donors are within 1 percentage point of one another when it comes to enrollment in a monthly giving program (~55%) and volunteering locally (~67%).
  • Social media, closely followed by email, are the communication tools that most inspire giving.

nonprofit communication

  • Planning your social media awareness and advertising for the year ahead? Facebook remains the undisputed champion of online donations.

Global giving social media

  • Your nonprofit’s website should end in .org. 68% of donors most trust the “.org” domain extension. 
  • Adopting policies such as those regarding ethics, document retention, and confidentiality are essential! 92% of donors say it is important charitable organizations “make a concerted effort to protect their contact and financial info from data breaches.”

how donors prefer to be thanked for donations

  • When thanking donors, the majority (69%) prefer email the most.

Free gifts report giving

  • When thinking about incentivizing and inspiring donors, free gifts don’t always do the trick. Only 20% of donors are more likely to donate if they’re offered a free gift. (Plus, donors need to be aware of considerations when claiming quid pro quo donations.)

Again, these are just a few of the most important figures picked from an extremely well done and detailed report, 2018 Global Trends In Giving. If you give the report a read, what were the most unexpected and unique statistics to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights!

For any aspect of donation facilitation, organizational compliance, as well as legal training, I’m happy to provide beneficial services to help your nonprofit best pursue its mission. Don’t hesitate to reach out via email or phone (515-371-6077) at any time.