Estate Plans Must Take Digital Assets into Account

Today, when a person dies, he or she may own much in the way of property that is far different from physical property such as real estate or vehicles, or even cash, stocks or bonds. Estate planning for people in California and nationwide increasingly must make provisions for digital assets. Digital assets can include social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter, and may also include a website or blog that the person used, possibly in ways that generated a stream of income.

Digital assets can include files stored on local computers or on remote servers. They can also include email accounts, including an accumulated storage of past emails that contain valuable information. Digital files stored can include photographs, videos, sound files, e-books, software licenses, file sharing accounts and memberships in affiliate programs that earn either cash or other things of value, such as discounts or merchandise.

The list is hardly exhaustive, and new forms of digital assets are developing all the time. All too often, failure to adequately catalog what such assets are and where they are stored may result in a permanent loss of family photos when an account holder dies, or the loss of funds in an account stored and accessed only online.

An adequate estate plan to address digital assets must include the creation of a comprehensive list of them, along with current information needed to access them — such as user names and passwords, account numbers, and security questions and answers. Such information must be periodically updated.

Another thing to remember is that the list will do absolutely no good if it is hidden away and cannot be found or accessed, so telling a trustworthy estate administrator how to access the list is essential. It is also important to know that, depending on the terms of a user agreement for an online account, not all digital assets may be transferable to another person.

Source: BusinessLexington, “Estate planning with digital assets in mind,” H. Trigg Mitchell, Jan. 17, 2013