ESTATE PLANNING ‘HOW-TO’ FOR YOUR DIGITAL ASSETS
There is no federal law regulating access to digital properties as of now: however, many states have established estate planning laws or legislation for protecting the digital assets of people when they die. In California, the law named “the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act” is active since January 1st, 2017. With this, a process has been established that allows your executor, trustee, power of attorney or court-appointed conservator to gain access to your online accounts and assets after you die.
What Are The Digital Assets?
Before telling you about the ways to do estate planning for digital assets, you must be aware of exactly what can be called your digital assets and properties. Here is a short list:
- Your computer or laptop, kindle reader, tablets, smartphones, digital cameras, hard disk or flash drives, or any other computing hardware.
- Any information or data stored in the cloud or in a physical device such as a hard disk, CD, pen drive, etc.
- Any type of online accounts, such as an email account, social media account, photo or video sharing account, banking and investment accounts, gaming account, online storage accounts, etc.
- Your domain names, or any other intellectual properties, including copyrighted materials, trademarks or patents, or any codes that you may have written.
HOW THEY ARE AT RISK AFTER YOUR DEATH?
Unfortunately, most of them are at the risk of being lost after you die. That’s because of three reasons:
- You never shared your online passwords with your spouse, family or your executor.
- You never made a detailed list of all your account ID’s and passwords, and a record of their payment details.
- It never caught your interest to read the long ‘terms and agreements’ section while you were creating an account or making a purchase. Some of their terms are so complex that it becomes an arduous task for the executor to get a hold of the related asset.
ESTATE PLANNING FOR DIGITAL ASSETS – HOW TO CREATE ONE?
You can legally formalize your digital estate planning in your Will or Trust. You can name a Digital Executor or specify who your traditional Executor should work with to settle your digital estate. You should also specify the location of your digital assets so that when you die, your digital executor can find and access your plan. However, you should never give the details of your passwords in the Will as it becomes a public document when you die.
How will you incorporate detailed directions and information surrounding your digital assets into your estate plan? Here are the steps:
1. Inventory Your Accounts and Assets: Make a list of all your digital assets including your computing hardware to your online accounts such as social media accounts and your online banking accounts. Prepare a list of the passwords for the online accounts separately, as in a password manager program and inform the executor about its location. Update it on a monthly or quarterly basis to avoid missing or outdated information.
2. Be Clear About Their Fate After Your Death: Instruct in your Will or Trust about the fate of all your digital assets: which one to be inherited by whom, which one will be deleted, and which one will be archived or saved. For each digital account or asset, specify how would you like your digital executor to handle them.
3. Carefully Select a Digital Executor: A digital executor is the person designated by you to help settle your digital estate after your death based on your Will. You can also specify to your executor who they should work with to settle your digital estate. Choose a person who is highly organized, tech-savvy, patient, and committed to following your wishes in your Will.
4. Find a Place to Store the Information: You can keep this sensitive information with your attorney, an online storage service, in a locked file safe, or another secure-but-accessible place. Make sure that when you die, your digital executor knows where to access them.
Finally, do not hesitate to discuss this with your estate planning attorney. To make sure your digital estate plan is in place call me, Jennifer Elliott, Esq, -Trusts, Estates, and Probate Law at (949) 420-0025.