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Protecting Digital Assets with Your estate Plan

Posted by HMS Law Group | Apr 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

Do you have a Facebook account? Have you considered what would happen to it if you were to pass away unexpectedly? How many other online accounts do you have that would need some type of action? Have you considered how to include all these digital assets in your estate plan? Concerns about online property, including login information for your various online accounts (both your financial accounts and your social accounts) should receive major consideration from you if you wish to have a thorough and complete estate plan in place. 

What Can You Do to Address Your Digital Life and Online Property in Your Estate Plan?

  • Keep a list of online accounts, usernames and passwords.
  • Keep a list of any online or digital property such as a PayPal account (or other online financial accounts), images, multimedia or textual content files.
  • Keep the lists up to date.
  • Keep the written lists in a secure location: a safe deposit box, home safe, secure online storage site (i.e. Carbonite, PassPack, DropBox), etc. You may also consider providing a copy of these lists to your estate planning attorney for safekeeping.

Creating these types of lists will aid fiduciaries and family members as they attempt to find your valuable and significant online accounts and other digital property. These lists will also help reduce the administration costs associated with dissolution or distribution of your estate, and provide for a smoother administration. Knowledge of all assets, digital and physical, makes estate dissolution and distribution possible. When digital assets are not accessible, they can be overlooked. This delays the administration process and hinders the effectiveness of your estate plan. The additional time and effort required to find digital property and determine how to gain access to it also increases the costs associated with the administration of the estate.

In addition to keeping lists of your online account and digital property, you can also take advantage of the websites that are beginning to offer options for handling the accounts of members who pass away. Previously, no one had access to the Facebook account of a deceased individual-the only option was to close the account or memorialize the deceased's Facebook page as it was left upon the member's passing. Changes made by Facebook now allow members additional options for planning for handling their accounts posthumously: settings allowing for permanent deletion when you die or the appointment of a “Legacy Contact” who has limited access and capabilities to post to the account after the death of the member. Another well known online entity that is helping techies plan for death in the digital age is YouTube. YouTube's policy for posthumously handling user video property requires a specific YouTube Power of Attorney (POA) over the user's account during life. The YouTube policy seems to have only one obvious potential problem: if the deceased happens to have granted a POA to someone who is not the executor, then conflicts may arise between the agent appointed under the YouTube POA and the administrator of the deceased's estate.

If you're like many others in our fast moving and ever evolving digital world, you could have multiple online banking accounts, a PayPal account, multiple domain names, Web-hosting accounts, a number of email addresses and several active social-networking accounts. Tackling the digital portion of your estate plan can seem overwhelming, even for those experienced in planning for the posthumous handling of accounts. For assistance incorporating your digital property and online accounts into your estate plan, please get in touch with HMS Law Group LLP. We are here to help you protect your legacy for your loved ones.

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