Tom Kerr writing on digital assets…

You never know who your seatmate will be when you board a flight…but you probably hope it’s someone who will keep their nose in a novel and not jabber your ears off.

Once in a while, though, you get lucky…and an impromptu conversation with an airborne stranger can educate and illuminate. That happened to me a few years ago, when I sat next to a soft-spoken guy named Frank.

I told him I was a writer by trade…and then he casually mentioned, “I’m a certified hacking forensic investigator…”

A what?

My curiosity was off to the races.

Over the next 90 minutes Frank made me uncomfortably aware of the fact that, in the digital age, the majority of Americans like you and me have numerous, highly valuable online assets that may simply vanish into thin air. That’s because while you’re distracted by text messages, news feeds, and social media updates, the various accounts in your name…which are locked-down by your secret passwords… remain unknown and inaccessible to your loved ones.

If you die – wait, let me rephrase that…when you die – that wealth could all go “poof.”

Privacy laws can also make it difficult, if not impossible, for your heirs to locate and open up your accounts, which may hold cash, stocks, bitcoins, intellectual property…you name it.

That’s when certified forensic techies like Frank come into the picture, and try to save the day. They are authorized digital sleuths who search your hard drives for evidence of online valuables. He told me he had recovered everything from fat retirement accounts and gold bullion to e-commerce businesses that heirs didn’t know existed.

But some of the most grateful heirs were those for whom he recovered photos, letters, manuscripts, and video footage of deceased loved ones…priceless mementos that would have otherwise been lost.

Then again, sometimes he can’t find diddly-squat…because the digital bread crumbs lead to a dead end. That could happen to your assets too, if you don’t proactively organize them while there is still time.

Laws governing how digital estates can be managed, and by whom, differ from state to state. You can find out what laws, if any, your state has enacted to help protect you – and get more information – by consulting a knowledgeable attorney or estate planner.

Meanwhile, the first thing to do is to compile and continually update an inventory of your digital valuables, and keep your list in a very safe, secure location.

You should make sure that an impeccably trustworthy party, such as your estate attorney or executor, knows how to locate and access your online accounts and assets. You can also check online service providers like Google and Facebook to see if they have user settings you can manage that will guide what happens to your account in the event of your death.

The steps you establish in your will or other legal directives will take precedence over user settings, and it is of the utmost importance that you spell out your wishes clearly in those vital documents.

When the plane goes down, you need to already have those legal ducks in a row. Otherwise you may forfeit some powerful rights…and leave your heirs in a frustrating conundrum. The majority of your estate could be seized by the government, hacked into and stolen by thieves, or simply wind up lost in cyberspace like an abandoned communications satellite.

Take care of all those loose ends now…you’ll be glad you did. Once that task is checked-off of your to-do list you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the remainder of your worry-free flight through life.

Make sure you’re using technology to simplify your life…and not allowing technology to make things complicated for you. Learn how to make money, save money, and protect your privacy in the digital age.

Check out these tips.

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