When creating your estate plan many people only think about their physical property and financial assets. Now in the digital age you need to also plan for your digital assets.
These days almost everyone has a computer and a smartphone with many storing information in the cloud. You have a lot of financial information and personal records stored on these devices and accounts. Digital assets can include:
- Electronic communications such as emails, social media accounts and blogs
- Financial accounts such as PayPal, Venmo or other online banking, investment and brokerage accounts
- Digital collections such as photos, videos and music files stored in apps or in the cloud
- Online reward programs such as credit cards, hotels and airlines
- Website domain names
- Business accounts such as customer databases
- Income-generating accounts such as websites, blogs or podcasts
- Digital copyrights or trademarks
First off, your heirs may not even know they exist and second, they may not be able to get access to them if you haven’t made it clear.
Wouldn’t you be devastated if your family photos and videos were lost forever? And what if your loved one’s social media accounts stayed open long after their death? Or worse, the social media site just destroys their account upon notification of their death. Some sites permit another person to access your account only with your prior permission. So if you don’t plan properly, your heirs might not be able to access your online accounts.
When you enter into a “terms of service agreement” that most digital service providers require when setting up an account, most individuals just accept the terms and move on. What you may not understand is that you have agreed to prohibit third-party access, including by fiduciaries, to your digital asset upon your death or incapacity. This will cause a lot of headaches for your fiduciaries when they try to account for your assets.
Most individuals nowadays receive their statements through their personal and business email accounts, not the US mail. If your fiduciary does not have legal access to your email accounts they may not know of outstanding accounts or business deals with customers.
Digital property is like any other property but the law is still adapting. Federal and state laws prohibit unauthorized access to computer systems, private personal data and online communications. These laws were enacted to protect consumers against fraud and identity theft, but unfortunately they obstruct family members’ access to the digital assets of the deceased.
The best thing to do is consult your estate attorney regarding digital assets. If you don’t have one, we can provide you with a list of estate attorneys to consider.
Hope you have a great week!
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