As the widespread use of technology becomes more critical to our everyday lives, more people are considering digital assets when completing their estate planning. Those digital assets may not seem immediately important, but estate administrators say that managing passwords, user names and answers to personal security questions can be critical in the estate planning process.

Many self-employed businesspeople, for example, keep their financial records exclusively online or on a protected computer. One man who uses the Internet to manage his frequent business travel plans said he did not even consider the millions of miles that he had accumulated through air travel. The man’s attorney advised him that the miles were, in fact, a digital asset that should be managed after his death.

This scenario is not uncommon, but only a few people are realizing that their wishes for their virtual assets should be defined in their wills. Attorneys throughout the country say that the new trends toward digital account management have left some families confused when the time for estate administration arrives. Without access to the information, estates cannot be distributed efficiently.

A recent survey conducted by a retirement advocacy group shows that nearly two-thirds of older Americans have not made provisions to manage their digital assets upon their death. That statistic exists despite the fact that more than half of Americans over the age of 45 agree that online financial records should be considered in an estate plan.

Providing password information to both your digital financial accounts and your e-mail accounts could prove invaluable to your family members. Many e-mail providers will not transfer account ownership when the holder dies, which means that family members could find themselves unable to access the gateway to the deceased’s online life.

Laws about electronic documents and individual estates vary by state jurisdiction, and more area leaders are realizing that legal precedent is required to effectively manage these assets. By including important passwords, user names and other online keys, you can improve your estate plan and save your grieving family members a great deal of worry.

Luis E. Barreto