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Estate Plans Should Now Include Digital Assets and Accounts

Weber Law March 27, 2015

Wichita estate planning attorney J. Joseph Weber regularly advises clients to periodically review and revise their estate plan.  The need to update an estate plan frequently relates to changes in a person’s family structure, assets or applicable state or federal law.  However, societal changes and technology also can necessitate making adjustments to an estate plan.  For example, many estate plans that have been around for more than 5 years or more might not address the disposition of digital assets.  While digital assets were not something that most people considered a decade ago, an estate plan should no longer be considered complete without providing direction regarding social media accounts and other digital assets.

People are increasingly storing massive amounts of information on computers and the internet which makes it important to consider how such information should be dealt with if you pass away.  While administration of an estate used to involve locating and reviewing hard copies of documents and records, those who will be responsible for handling your estate cannot simply be pointed to a drawer in a file cabinet.  Much of the financial information that must be accessed when administering an estate plan may be solely available through electronic access, such as electronic financial statements on Quicken, e-Bills or information used for tax preparation.

Digital assets like pictures, blog posts, emails, writings and other documents may contain intellectual property, unique ideas, perspectives, memories and life experiences.  While it might be obvious that this type of digital information has value when it relates to a famous or high-profile information, this type of information can have value for many people depending on the circumstances.  If you do not take appropriate steps to ensure that your digital assets and accounts are adequately addressed through your estate plan, information, ideas, videos and pictures that have both financial and emotional value may be lost forever if you die.

Our Wichita estate planning law firm has provided some suggestions for inclusion of digital assets in estate plans:

Create an Inventory

·       Hardware and Devices: Developing an inventory that arranges your digital information and devices into categories will simplify the process of preserving and distributing data and equipment.  The most obvious component of a digital estate is the electronic hardware used to store the files and information.  These include computers, iPods, digital cameras, portable memory devices, cell phones and similar devices.  The inventory should indicate where the devices can be located and generally the information stored on the various devices.

·       Social Media and Remote Storage Sites: The ease of storing video files and photos online means that these sites often are the only place such information is saved.  These sites include YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.  Other remote storage locations might include your own website, blog and other remote storage sites like cloud storage services.

·       Programs and Software: The relevant programs include documents, financial statements and other files used for work or personal purposes.

·       Online Accounts: These accounts include financial accounts, eBay, amazon and other sites that might have access to your credit card and banking information.

Provide Instructions and Login Information

Even if an itemization is provided of sites and storage locations, the ability to access the information will depend on providing instructions and passwords, so the information can be accessed.

Decide on a Successor

You need to select the successor who you want to access and handle your digital assets.  If you make changes in your login information or acquire new devices or use new sites, you should ensure that your appointed successor is informed of the location and login information for these additions.  The successor should be someone you trust.  The person also should have some basic computer and internet knowledge.

If you have questions about estate planning arrangements for your digital assets, we welcome the opportunity to talk to you and answer your questions.  We invite you to call us or submit an inquiry form through this website to schedule your initial consultation.