Estate Planning For Digital Assets
In today’s digital age, our lives are increasingly cluttered with various online accounts and ever-changing passwords. It’s hard to keep track of it all. Imagine how difficult this would be for your next of kin if something should happen to you. Does your spouse and/or loved ones know how to access your important financial records, accounts and records online? Historically, estate planners focus on ‘physical’ assets like your home and its contents. Today, estate planning for ‘digital’ assets can be just as important.
When someone dies, their trustees, beneficiaries, estate representatives and heirs often struggle to (a) locate and (b) access the decedent’s “digital assets.” Access may be necessary to secure and transfer remote-stored valuable assets. In some cases, entire businesses may be operated online (such as a blog or an e-commerce site). Access may also be desired for sentimental reasons, for instance to close or download password-protected emails, Facebook and other social networking accounts, blogs, voice messages, priceless family photos and videos, or other electronic information.
How should your estate plan address digital assets? For one, it can be invaluable to communicate with loved ones (a) what your digital assets consist of (make an inventory), and (b) how your digital assets can be accessed (keep track of your passwords).
In some cases, however, even knowing a decedent’s password may be insufficient to gain access to their account. Gmail’s user agreement, for instance, states that Google “does not guarantee” that it will provide access to a decedent’s representative. Others limit access to the account owner him or herself. Federal law makes “exceeding authorized access” under an online user agreement a cybercrime-a chilling thought for the well-intentioned representative seeking to “hack” their deceased loved one’s account.
Thus, it is important to ensure that your estate planning documents give your representatives the consent and authority to access, retrieve and/or dispose of your digital assets. This consent and authority should be included in power of attorney, will, and trust documents.
Please discuss with your estate planning attorney whether your digital assets are adequately ‘covered’ by your estate plan. For an estate planning consultation or to update an existing estate plan, will, trust, and power of attorney, please contact one of our experienced estate planning attorneys at Bosshard | Parke Ltd.