Estate Planning in the Digital Era

Estate Planning in the Digital Era

How many hours do you spend on Facebook?

What have you posted on your blog lately?

Do you file your taxes online?

Have you ever wondered what will happen to your online stuff when you leave Earth and the living world?

Estate planning in the digital era is not always at the top of anybody’s list. But if you think about it, you do live in the digital world and your online assets may be lying around, not knowing to whom they will go to when you pass away.

It is important to have certain questions answered in advance, especially questions that pertain to your estate, so your loved ones have total control over your online data when the time comes. It is important that one or two family members know how to access your digital assets, as well as how to share or delete them. Besides, there are bills that need to be paid and paperless bills typically go through your email nowadays.

The Digital Scenario

There is no stopping technological advancements. Over the last few years, banking, communication, games, photos, networking, and music have all been hauled towards the digital sphere. A proper estate plan will outline a fiduciary, such as a personal representative, a trustee, or an attorney-in-fact, that will be given access to and be able to manage digital assets in the same way as tangible assets.

Most states don’t have laws in-effect that will allow a fiduciary access to these same assets. Existing state and federal laws prohibit individuals from gaining access to digital accounts or computers and service providers are not allowed to disclose any account-related information without consent.

In addition, access is also limited to anyone beside the account holder upon agreeing to Terms of Service agreement each time you create a digital account. For instance, surviving heirs have to secure a court order just to access a record of a deceased account holder’s email. Needless to say, estate planning in the digital era is a substantial concern that you must do something about today.

Your Digital Assets

So what are your digital assets? What can be considered as a digital asset evolves with technology, but here are some that you need to take note of:

      E-mail accounts
      Social networking accounts including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
      Spotify, Pandora, and other music sites
      Online sales accounts
      Bank, financial, and investment accounts you manage online
      Blogs, domain names, and webpages
      Online data storage accounts like Dropbox or Google Docs
      Photo-sharing and video-sharing accounts like Flickr or YouTube
      Online payment accounts
      Amazon, eBay and other retails accounts

Practically everything that you manage online is part of your estate plan in the digital era. Establishing a plan on how you can deal with each one of them plays a big role as you attempt to wrap up your estate.

Digital Estate Planning

For starters, it would be smart to take an inventory of your digital assets. Make a list of files that are important and map out where they could be found on your electronic or storage devices such as your external hard drives, desktop computer, iPad, USB drive, smartphone, and the like.

Your online accounts should also be in place with the corresponding answers to security questions. Take note of essential electronic footprints such as usernames and passwords that you want your heirs to access. Keep track of all your activities as you go online and determine which ones are of financial or sentimental value to you.

After that, you can make use of the information that you have to write a plan that specifies what you want and names the person who will be responsible for carrying them out. You can utilize the last page of your Last Will and Testament for a separate writing memorandum. Here, you can spell out specific items you want to leave to certain individuals and what you would want done to them.
For instance, you can leave your Spotify account to your daughter and your eBay account to your spouse. You can likewise leave instructions for your Personal Representative to print your digital photos and have them made into a scrapbook for the next generation.

When it comes to estate planning in the digital era, what is required is that you be very specific in writing down your wishes to avoid any confusion or delay.

Digital Executors in California

Of equal importance is the designation of a “digital executor”. You see, estate planning does not traditionally take digital assets into consideration. In California in particular, the executor that you name will not have the power to access any of your online accounts. Because of this, you must a appoint a specific digital executor to protect and manage your assets online. This person will be in charge of handling how your accounts will be handled in accordance with your estate.
Just remember that your digital executor will not replace the traditional executor. Instead, your digital executor is one whom you trust with your digital assets as well.

At The Estate Planning Law Center, it is our goal to make sure that your estate plan is complete and correct to account for your digital assets according to California state laws.

If you need assistance with your estate plan, or have concerns about your digital assets, please call us at 818-292-8160. We have over 25 years of experience and offer a free consultation to discuss your options. Click here for more information about estate planning and how Richard M. Seff can help.

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