Estate Planning for Digital Assets

Over the course of your life, you’ve likely spent hundreds to thousands of dollars on digital assets and perhaps even more hours of your time, but have you ever thought about what will happen to these digital assets and accounts when you pass away? For example, what would happen to photos or videos stored on your hard drive, or uploaded to a photo sharing site? What about your email and social media accounts, or the data on your smart phone? How about your iTunes library and eBook purchases, or your online banking and shopping accounts? While most people have some or all of these types of digital assets, some may also have an online business, run a blog, or have airline miles and bonus points to pass along. Planning for the disposition of these assets is very important so that your wishes, such as passing on your digital photos to a family member or having your social media accounts deleted, are carried out.

As with estate planning for your “real world” assets, it is important to make a list of all of the digital assets and accounts that you have, and instructions for how you would like the assets and accounts to be handled. For example, would you like the photos on your computer to be shared, and with whom? Would you like your social media pages or blogs to be maintained, archived, or deleted altogether? It is important to update this list periodically. With regard to online accounts, keeping a current list of passwords is also important. Your fiduciary (whether a trustee or personal representative) should know where this list is, but you should never include this list as a part of your will since wills become public records when probated. Rather, you should designate a fiduciary in your will or trust and provide instructions as to where he or she can find your password and account information, if previously unknown.

Just as the State has a default estate plan for any of your assets not covered in your will or trust, most online account providers have default provisions to deal with decedent’s accounts as well, and the provisions may not be in line with your wishes. Additionally, if you haven’t provided for the disposition of your digital assets, they may essentially have to be probated – a process that many specifically undertake estate planning to avoid. Having to probate these digital assets creates extra work for you personal representative and will likely incur additional costs against your estate, leaving less for your intended beneficiaries.

As technology continues to rapidly develop and as our lives become more entwined with the digital world, it is more important than ever to ensure that your digital assets and accounts are handled in accordance with your wishes. Just as it is important to review and update your estate plan whenever you have a life change, such as a marriage, birth, or death, and whenever a change in laws affects your plan, it is important to account for changes in technology and online presence within your plan as well. To learn how you can protect and pass on your digital assets in the event of your death, contact David Mammel, Esq. at (248) 644-6326.


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