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Today’s world makes it easy to share photos, opinions, personal updates and so much more. With access to hundreds of memories just at our fingertips, technology has changed the legal community, and it presented the estate planning field with one simple question. What happens to your digital life when you die?

In the latest issue of SC Lawyer, Mike Polk addresses this question and focuses on the importance of digital estate planning. “I noticed that there were not many South Carolina specific resources available about digital estate planning,” says Polk, who practices at Belser & Belser in Columbia and chairs the SC Bar’s Technology Committee. “The more I read and researched the topic, the more I realized how critical it is to develop an understanding of it.”

Almost everything has moved from paper to online. Need to buy something? Check Amazon. Ready to file your taxes? There are websites for that. Want to talk to a distant relative? Try social media.

“People are using their computers, cell phones and tablets to communicate, to take pictures, to make financial transactions and to generally run their lives,” says Polk. “This is a developing area of the law, and it is one with which attorneys will have to follow both on a personal and professional level.”

In his article, Polk referenced an episode of the Netflix hit show “Black Mirror.” One episode follows a young woman who tries to communicate with a digital clone of boyfriend who passed unexpectedly. To avoid recreating a loved one or breaking internet laws, Polk offers three rules to start your digital estate planning:

  • Check your estate planning documents to make sure that they address access to digital assets.
  • Check the websites that you use the most often to see whether they have an online tool that allows you to designate what happens after you pass away or, if not, what happens when you die.
  • Consider using a password manager to keep track of all of your passwords and online accounts (most of them allow you to create secure notes, as well).

“The more you learn about the topic, the more you realize how critical it is to address the online accounts that you and your clients use and to be aware of what happens to the accounts at death,” Polk stresses.

The importance of digital estate planning cannot be ignored, especially since the world lives through technology.

The future for digital estate planning is uncertain, but it is something that will be around forever. “Hopefully as time goes by the tech companies and lawyers will both become more aware of these issues and provide tools to protect users on the front end and the back end of the planning process. It is a topic that will become more, not less, important in the future.”