“Digital assets, including banking and investing accounts, e-mail accounts, photos, blogs, bitcoins and money accounts, such as PayPal, are usually password protected. Some of them have real value and others might have sentimental value to heirs.”
Encouraging people to have their wills updated is part of an on-going educational process for almost every estate planning attorney. Now there’s a new area that has to be updated: digital assets.
As explained in Financial Advisor’s article, “Unlocking Clients’ Digital Lives,” if no one can access your digital assets, including accounts, many could be lost, stolen by a hacker or deleted.
Forty-one states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed laws that allow a financial planner or other fiduciary to access digital assets upon the death of a client, and four other states plus the District of Columbia are considering similar legislation.
In Missouri, the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act allows a fiduciary to be granted access to a person’s electronic records or digital assets in a will, trust, power of attorney or another document.
The way we live our personal lives and the way we conduct our personal business and financial matters have changed, so we must address digital assets in our estate planning to reflect these changes.
Challenges are created if those digital assets are not addressed in the estate plan. Striking a balance between privacy rights and the need to settle an estate, can become an expensive and time-consuming issue. One family had to bring a lawsuit to access the emails of their son, a Marine who was killed while serving our country.
If you manage your bill paying and investments online, someone will need to be able to control bill payments, especially if they are on an autopayment schedule.
Start by preparing a complete inventory of all digital assets, including a description of each one and how it is accessed with names, passwords and security questions. Find out what each online platform requires, if a fiduciary or executor needs to access those accounts. Each platform, like each financial institution, has their own forms and procedures.
This information should be stored in a secure place. Some people prefer a password-protected digital location.
Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you make sure that your estate plan reflects your wishes for your digital assets. Just as you need to update your estate plan every few years to make sure it still achieves your personal goals and complies with new laws, information about digital assets needs to be updated as well.
Reference: Financial Advisor (Aug. 21, 2018) “Unlocking Clients’ Digital Lives”
Key Suggested Terms: Wills, Estate Plan, Digital Assets, E-Mail Accounts, Blogs, Bitcoins, Password Protected, Fiduciaries