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​​3 Assets to Protect in the Digital Era (and How to Protect Them)

It’s never too early to make a succession plan for your traditional, digital and intellectual assets, as this CFP’s experience proves.

Written by Elaine King CFP® / September 14, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Protecting your assets now helps to ensure that your loved ones will be named as your beneficiaries down the road.
  • This CFP recommends categorizing your assets into three buckets: traditional, digital and intellectual.
  • To keep these assets safe, you may need to consult an attorney or take on the legwork yourself.

Michael was an introvert who made art and music. In a crowded room, you probably wouldn’t have noticed him, especially at his passionless day job. Unfortunately, Michael died suddenly at 29, leaving behind a lack of planning and lots of unprotected assets.

For Michael, it was normal not to have a plan for his assets—he was only 29, after all. The process of planning and protecting your assets for beneficiaries is something most people do in their 50s and 60s. No one knew what he had socked away or where he had stored it.

Michael’s family was my client, so I created a checklist to help them retrace his steps, which were harder to follow in our current era of digital assets. Now, I’m sharing this list so you can protect your assets, leaving them with your loved ones.

Where to start? Start by making a list and categorizing your assets in three buckets: traditional, virtual and intellectual.

Inside this article

  1. Traditional assets
  2. Virtual assets
  3. Intellectual assets

Traditional assets

Take an inventory of all the assets you own. Think of things you can’t take with you when you leave this world, like your…

  • House

  • Car

  • Furniture

  • Sporting goods

  • Shares in an investment property

  • Checking and savings accounts

  • Retirement and investment accounts

As soon as I became a Certified Financial Planner in my mid 20s, I created my will—I thought, I should have one if I am recommending it for clients. I created the document before a long trip to Australia and had to show my investment accounts, titles of real estate properties and retirement accounts to the attorney. It was a simple process and you can do it too, with an attorney or online.

Make sure to name the assets and designate the beneficiaries—beneficiaries are necessary except for retirement accounts and life insurance policies that pass to the beneficiary specified already. For asset-protection purposes, besides having a will, also ensure you have insurance to protect your assets and loved ones.

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How Does Life Insurance Pay Out?

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The tricky part is where to store your will. Here are some ideas:

  • With the attorney that drafted it

  • In a safe deposit box

  • With your executor

  • In online document storage (more on this below)

It is important that someone (other than you) has a copy of your will, ideally a beneficiary or executor. For example, I emailed it to my parents and husband and saved it on a thumb drive too. Also, make sure your beneficiaries are aware of your assets and intentions in your will.

Virtual assets

In 2022, over 9 million people own non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which represents a 100% increase from 2021, according to a Security.org study.[1] And in 2021, about 22% of U.S. adults (46 million) owned Bitcoins, according to a New York Digital Investment Group (NYDIG) survey.[2] Odds are you have virtual assets too, so how can you protect them?

  • To protect against theft and fraud, you can use a noncustodial crypto platform such as Coincover.com

  • Consider contract insurance since NFTs are contracts and can generate royalties

Keep in mind that other digital assets also include your online accounts and computer files. The best way to protect them is to make a list in a written estate plan as an addendum that you can update easily. You might list PayPal accounts, medical records, cloud storage, social media, as well as online investments and bank accounts. Some companies have a special consumer product for inheritance of digital assets and prompts you to assign a digital executor and denote whether assets should be transferred or deleted upon death.

Most digital assets don’t have a beneficiary or transfer-on-death designation since they are contracts, but you can attempt to adjust this by making specific requests of those assets in your will. Pay special attention to the fact that most Metaverse platforms are unique and governed by their own terms of service that can legally delete or give away items by delinking the digital asset from your original NFT identification code—this merits at least an annual update to your protection plan.

Intellectual assets

Finally, the assets created by you. In Michael’s case, these were his original songs, art work, book manuscripts, videos of his concerts and illustrations of murals and logos.

Make a list of your intellectual assets, add the ownership and value you estimate, restrict access with authentication and ensure that third parties or contractors use non-disclosure agreements (NDA).  Also, register ownership though the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Make sure your applications are up to date, use two-factor authentication to protect them. 

More generally, don’t access or manage any of your asset types using unsecured WiFi; consider insurance for cybersecurity; keep accounts secure using password-protection software.

In an unforeseen event, the best thing you can do for yourself and loved ones is to create, communicate and update a plan to protect your traditional, virtual and intellectual assets.

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Article Sources
  1. Aliza Vigderman, “NFT Awareness and Adoption Report,” Security.org, July 26, 2022, https://www.security.org/digital-security/nft-market-analysis/.
  2. “Banking + Bitcoin Survey,” NYDIG, Jan. 13, 2021, https://nydig.com/research/nydig-bitcoin-banking-survey.

About the Authors

Elaine King

Elaine King CFP®

Elaine has served as the Family’s Financial Planner for over 1,200 families and 100 multigenerational family enterprises crafting actionable family financial plans.

Full bio

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