Estate Planning in the Digital Age

As the world around us changes and becomes more technologically advanced, we find ourselves on the internet more and more. We conduct businesses online, we bank online, we shop online, and we store a large portion of our documents, pictures and other belongings online. But what will happen to all these digital assets when we are no longer around?

Common examples of digital assets are purchased movies and games, personal pictures and profiles on social media, and documents stored on a cloud. Some of these assets are part of online accounts, which often have complicated terms of service agreements that can make it difficult or impossible for loved ones to access the assets. Further, simply providing loved ones with your log-in information might not be enough. There are some laws, which can put your loved ones, who try to access your accounts, at the risk of violating privacy and anti-hacking statutes or committing fraud.

So how can one go about protecting his or her digital assets? The same principles of protection that apply to your physical assets can apply to your digital assets as well. Here are a few steps to take to ensure your digital assets are protected and your loved ones will have access to them.

Be Aware – Be in touch with your attorney, financial advisor and CPA on a regular basis and talk to them regarding protecting your digital assets. With new technological developments, laws governing the field change all the time. It is important that your documents, such as a will and a trust, contain the proper legal language to ensure its provisions will be valid and enforceable when the time comes.

Take an Inventory – Make a list of all your digital assets. This can be harder and more confusing that creating a list of your physical assets. Digital assets include a large variety items including but not limited to:

Hardware – This includes items such as your computers, tablets, CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, USB hard drives and memory cards.

Software – This includes programs you use to create or control information, such as financial programs like Quicken, tax preparation programs like TurboTax, or blog writing programs.

Online Presence – This includes accounts such as email accounts, social media profiles, online videos and pictures, blogs, listservs, storage site accounts, shopping site accounts and financial site accounts.

Collect Log-In Information List – Make a list of all your online log-in information including passwords. Make sure to keep this list in a safe place. This could be written on a piece of paper and kept in a safe or created as a file and kept on a secure server online.

Appoint the Right Person – The same person whom you have trusted with your physical assets might not always be the best person to manage your digital assets. Review your assets and pick the person or persons who can manage your digital assets according to your wishes. Provide instructions in your estate planning documents regarding who the trustees are, which assets they will control, and how they can gain access to the Log-In Information List.

Provide Instructions – Give your trustees instructions on how to manage your digital assets. These do not have to be detailed instructions. You might have a website or blogs that you would like to continue to exist after you are gone. You might have pictures or documents that you do not want to be deleted but rather be given to friends or family. You might have sensitive work related information that needs to be returned to your employer or clients or private information on your personal computer that you wish to be deleted before the computer itself is sold or given to a loved one.

Include Authorization – Make sure your estate planning documents such as a will, trust, and a durable power of attorney include required provisions which designate and allow your loved ones to access and deal with your digital assets.

Update Your Lists and Estate Planning Documents – Update your list of digital inventory and log-in information regularly. Check with your attorney on a regular basis to ensure your estate planning documents are up-to-date.

In today’s world, our digital presence outlives our own lives and thus it is important to plan for its future after we are gone. Although the above steps might not work for everyone, it is important to start thinking about these assets and start planning ahead.

If you are interested in creating an estate plan and would like your case reviewed by an estate planning attorney, contact us at 1-844-HOLBORN and one of our estate planning attorneys will be happy to assist you.

Disclaimer: This post is meant for general informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as legal advice. Holborn Law APC does not endorse any linked content. As with any laws, the information in this blog post may change at any time and may apply differently in different jurisdictions. The post may constitute Attorney Advertising as defined by the rules of professional responsibility of some jurisdictions. Holborn Law is based in Orange County and Riverside.The attorneys of Holborn Law APC are active members of the State Bar of California and licensed to practice law in California. All services relating to immigration and naturalization provided by Holborn Law APC are provided by active members of the State Bar of California or by a person under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California.

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