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How Do I Address Digital Assets in Estate Planning?

Digital assets are part of your legacy. It’s important to plan for how you want them to be managed after you’re gone.

Many states consider the digital accounts you have and access online to be no different from the tangible personal property you own, like cars, real estate and jewelry.

Los Altos (CA) Online’s recent article entitled “Creating an estate plan for your digital assets” says that you can control what happens to these digital assets after you die. However, you need to take specific actions to ensure that your wishes are followed. Let’s look at how to do it:

  1. Create an inventory. With everything you have online these days, you should categorize your digital assets. They might include online data storage accounts; emails, texts and contacts; social media accounts; and shopping accounts. You should identify all your financial accounts – bank, brokerage and retirement and bank credit card. However, those should be addressed through your estate planning documents in the traditional manner.
  2. Determine who you want to receive your digital assets after you are gone. Think through who gets what, just like your tangible property.
  3. Designate a fiduciary. This is a trusted agent named in your will or trust with the authority to access your digital assets. It can be the same individual for all of them but need not be. You should also include in an addendum your wishes for the disposition of each asset. Work with an experienced estate attorney to make certain that your estate documents accurately reflect your intentions.
  4. Determine the fiduciary’s ability to access your digital assets. Social media terms of service agreements (TOSAs) usually state that all posted content becomes the property of the custodian (the service provider), and nearly all TOSAs prohibit third-party access to digital assets after the user dies. However, if your will or trust explicitly grants a fiduciary access, the TOSA will no longer prevail. The custodian will be required to allow access to the digital assets by the fiduciary. The custodian has the right, however, to require evidence of the fiduciary’s authority, and could make the process difficult.

Another option is to leave the fiduciary a list of login IDs and passwords for the sites and/or the data – assuming, of course, that you strongly trust the person you’ve appointed as fiduciary. You can make a list on paper or use password-generator application which requires a master password. You should also be certain to include instructions for any two-factor authentication you may have set up.

Don’t list any user IDs and passwords in your will because they would become visible as a public record after death.

Reference: Los Altos (CA) Online (May 5, 2021)

 

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