With more and more technology now becoming a staple in our daily lives, it is very important to take your digital life into consideration when establishing an estate plan. Keeping up with one’s digital presence has been difficult in the past, but now that estate planning laws have almost caught up with technology, estate plans (or as we prefer to call them, Peace of Mind Plans) should include what should happen to your files, accounts, transactions, and other digital assets.
What Are Digital Assets?
Simply put, a digital asset is any account or service online that is protected by a type of log-in security feature. This includes things such as your cloud accounts, social media, web domains that you own, smartphone apps, and online financial accounts. Since things such as medical records are now being digitized, and are password-protected but accessible online, they are becoming another part of your digital life. If, like many people, your photos and music and backup files are stored “in the cloud” you have substantial digital assets that need to be cataloged and made accessible to a trusted Agent should something happen to you.
How Can I Determine My Digital Assets?
In order to determine all of your digital assets, it is important that you first establish your inventory, which may include any of the things previously mentioned. Then it is important to create another list of any digital liabilities, which include any of your automatic payments.
Part of our complete legal readiness package for our clients at Reilly Law, PLC is something we call our Peace of Mind Planning Roadmap Organizer. It provides a one-stop location for all of your critical information, to include your digital assets, to allow someone you trust to take care of things if you are unable to do so.
Using the Roadmap Organizer (or something similar) you start cataloging your digital assets by listing each name and web address for every asset. Be sure to include any account numbers and the full name(s) on the account. To ensure that your heirs will be able to access these accounts, also include information such as usernames and passwords. Indicate whether there is a secondary authentication on the account (e.g. a code is sent to your cell phone). If your accounts require answers to any security questions, be sure to include them as well.
Finally, once you have established a complete list of your digital assets, it is important to determine whom you wish to give access to for each asset and what should be done with it after you have passed away. You can then include those wishes in your living trust and will.
Barriers to Succession
Although it once proved difficult for executors or heirs to gain access to another’s account, this is no longer the case. For years people were prevented access to accounts and passwords due to a federal law making it a crime for someone to access an online account that isn’t actually theirs. However, most states, including Virginia, have adapted some version of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act, which allows for the Executors of an Estate to manage the deceased’s digital financial assets without gaining special permission – unless the Will says otherwise. However, without express permission, the Executor of an Estate is not entitled to access the decedent’s social media accounts, email, or text messages unless he or she has been granted such access by way of a legal document or order.
As digital assets continue to grow, many providers have begun initiating their own digital asset policies, such as Google and Facebook, which allow you to designate who should be granted access to your account after you pass. And, of course, as technology advances, so does the law, although changes to the law are always lagging behind changes in technology!
Reilly Law PLC Helps Our Clients Organize Their Financial and Digital Assets and Incorporate Them Into Their Peace of Mind Plan.
It’s difficult enough when a loved one dies, but when his or her heirs are left to deal with the inconvenience of an unresolved digital presence, it can create additional aggravation and unnecessary costs. That is why it is so important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced Estate Planning Attorney as soon as possible.
At Reilly Law PLC, we understand the importance of protecting what should be yours. We will help you to create an estate plan that meets your needs and keeps you protected. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact Reilly Law PLC today!