Estate plans are generally constructed around physical assets – but what about digital property?
These can include a huge variety of internet-based assets, some valuable, others not so in monetary terms, but possibly of great importance to the owner and heirs. Family photos, for example, are often stored online. These days, preserving digital assets is an essential part of comprehensive estate planning.
Unfortunately, state and federal law can make this process difficult. If the ownership of digital assets is not legally defined in an estate plan, privacy laws can make it impossible for heirs to gain control of these e-assets. There is some good news: the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which lays out ways for digital property to be legally assigned to heirs, has already been passed by a number of states.
Many online service providers have terms of service provisions that determine what happens to accounts that go inactive, perhaps due to the owner’s death. If properly employed this can help assure the assets go where you want post-mortem. Not all providers offer such sanguine options, though, and their service terms legally overrule any provisions in a person’s will. Extreme care must be taken to assure access to digital property is not blocked by inflexible service agreements.
It is important to name what we might term a digital executor – a person legally empowered by will, trust or other legal document to access digital accounts. Digital assets must first be carefully inventoried. Account details, including login names, passwords and answers to security questions must be recorded in physical format, securely stored and given to the executor at the proper time.
For more information, please read:
The Big Hole in Estate Plans: Digital Assets | ThinkAdvisor