While it may have taken a while, estate planning laws are almost in step with today’s technology. Estate plans created now are deemed incomplete if they don’t include a person’s digital life. Without those details, heirs can face obstacles, anxiety and unnecessary costs.
Most people, even those further along in years, have a far-reaching and intricate digital footprint, including social media, financial accounts, files, photos and transactions. Failing to include these items could mean part of your estate and legacy will be lost forever.
What are digital assets?
In the broadest sense, a digital asset is any online record belonging to a person. This includes anyone who owns a smartphone and uploads data to the cloud. Specifically, these assets include:
- Facebook, Instagram and other social media accounts
- Online banking and investment accounts
- Credit cards and rewards programs
- Documents stored in the cloud
- Digital and personal photos stored online
- Cryptocurrencies – such as Bitcoin
- Email accounts
- Websites, blogs or other works that generate income
Make a detailed list with login information
The first step is to create a comprehensive list of the above items and any other digital assets you own. The list should include digital liabilities, which include automatic payments made to creditors linked to banking or credit accounts. Include other assets that allow online management, such as IRAs and other investment accounts.
It’s crucial to include detailed information listing the asset, web address, account numbers and the exact user names and passwords to access them. After the list is complete, decide who you want to have access and how these accounts should be handled. Then, add those wishes to your estate plan with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.
Access to digital accounts has become easier
Until fairly recently, accessing digital accounts of deceased individuals could present a thorny legal issue. Many companies referenced a federal law making it illegal for someone to access online accounts that don’t belong to them. However, New York is one of several states to adopt the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act to avoid those difficulties.
Under the law, executors do not need special permission to manage certain digital assets, unless the will states otherwise. Under the law, executors can manage virtual currencies, web domains and computer files. However, an executor cannot access email, social media accounts or text messages unless permission is granted in a legal order or document, such as a power of attorney, will or trust.