Digital Estate Planning

Whether you realize it or not, you probably have amassed a large number of digital assets throughout your lifetime. Digital assets include anything that is created, communicated, sent, received, or stored electronically. Think about all the photos, music, movies, and e-books you have on your computer, smartphone, or in the cloud. Add to that each of the accounts you have created to access online banking, e-mail, shopping, or social media sites. These all make up your digital estate.

If something should happen to you, what happens to your digital accounts and files? Who will have access to them? If your family wants to preserve or download the content, will they be allowed to do so? Even if you provide a list of user IDs and passwords to your heirs, accessing someone else’s online accounts may violate Terms of Service agreements or state or federal law. 

In 2015, the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) was created. The act allows individuals the opportunity to specify how and when the executor of their estate (or agent under a Power of Attorney) can access their digital accounts or assets, subject to some limitations. To date, almost 40 states have enacted this legislation and several more are currently considering it. 

If access to, and control of, your electronic files and accounts is important to you, there are a few simple steps you can take to help ensure your executor has the access you desire:

Compile a list of user names and passwords. Keep the list in a safe place. Don’t include this information in your will, since a will becomes public record during the probate process.

Check website policies. Some sites automatically close or delete inactive accounts, while others will disable an account upon request by the family or executor. Certain websites offer an online tool that allows the user to specify how their account should be handled upon death or incapacity and name a trusted person to access the account. Take advantage of these tools when available.

Leave instructions in your estate planning documents. Leave instructions granting (or restricting) access to your digital accounts for your executor or agent under your will or Power of Attorney document. Talk to your attorney about whether instructions provided in a website’s online tool or those in estate planning documents will take precedence in the event of a conflict.

When creating or updating your estate plan, be sure to talk with your attorney about how you want your digital assets to be handled. Planning now can help to save your loved ones significant time and frustration in the future.

12-2018 Digital Estate Planning (pdf)

12-2018 Digital Estate Planning (jpg)

Published Date:December 13, 2018

Categories: It's Your Life