In discussions about estate planning, most of my clients are prepared to talk about their physical property. What happens to real estate, jewelry, household furnishings, and automobiles is an easy concept to grasp for most of my client. However, as an ever increasing number of Americans are using social media, email and online banking, the need to consider Digital Asset planning in our estate plan also continues to grow.
Some digital assets may have a monetary value or simply an emotional or sentimental value. However, having an estate plan that deals with this new form of intangible personal property is not a panacea. Online service agreements and laws such as the Stored Communications Act, also known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act may restrict access. Currently, there is no federal law to deal with the issue and only 8 states have adopted laws (Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) to deal with the issue.
Former 13 ABC reporter Jason Knowles, now at ABC 7 in Chicago, recently reported on the topic of making Digital Assets a part of the Estate Planning Process. The report summarized the importance of considering Digital Assets as part of your estate plan and the steps that you can take to make it easier for your fiduciaries.
What steps can you take? You can start by being organized and making an inventory of various digital assets. Make a list of your digital devices, all online accounts, social networking sites, online bank accounts and online media accounts (photos/music, etc.). Be certain to make notes as to how to access those sites, including passwords and security codes. Also, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the online terms of services for various sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
It is also a good idea to periodically backup your valuable information. Use your computer hard drive, a flash drive a CD or a DVD to store your valuable information. This step will make it easier on your executor, trustee or attorney in fact.
Finally, discuss your estate plan with your attorney. Make certain that your estate planning documents like a Power of Attorney, Will and Trust incorporates language that empowers your fiduciary and designates your wishes regarding digital assets. There may not be the “one size fits all” solution to the issue of digital asset management. However, it is a discussion that is becoming increasingly important as more of us deal with the new technology of the day.