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Estate Planning for Digital Assets

Digital assetsWhat happens to your online accounts after you die? It’s an important question many people avoid. California Assembly member Ian Calderon recently introduced AB 691 which aims to provide the protections necessary to safeguard our personal information after we die and allow access to only those people designated to have access to our digital property.

For those with online accounts—this includes online bank accounts, social media accounts, and photography accounts—these are part of your digital estate. A recent kcra.com report, titled Have you planned your digital afterlife?, reminds us that a digital estate can cause real headaches for grieving loved ones who may be attempting to access those accounts. The report recommends that people write down their passwords and make sure their trusted relatives will have access.  

Nor is it just a problem confined to the afterlife.  I have a client for whom my office is serving as both Attorney-in-Fact and trustee.  Yet even with the powers these legal documents provide us to step into his shoes and conduct business on his behalf, we have been thwarted by passwords.  One example: he no longer uses his mobile phone but because we don't know his account password we can't cancel his service.   The only solution we have been given is for the Attorney-in-Fact to appear in person at a corporate store with the Power of Attorney, his phone and ID in hand and just maybe they can assist us. 

Google has the option of having trusted contacts access their accounts or to have the data deleted after a specific period of inactivity. Facebook recently started the “legacy contact” option, which lets their users select someone to manage their pages after death. If a user doesn’t do anything, and Facebook discovers that the individual has passed, his or her posts will remain active and “memorialized” according to that user’s settings.

The original article says that it’s important for you to plan ahead and put someone in charge of these digital assets so your family would have the opportunity to take over if something were to happen to you—allowing them to control the information. One more thing:  as I mentioned, your digital estate planning should also incorporate your digital devices, like cellphones and laptops, along with the data they contain.  Pictures, music, videos, and documents make up our digital life. Make sure that you’re prepared to pass those on. An experienced estate planning attorney can help guide you through this process.

You can learn more about this topic as well as other strategies on our website under the tab entitled: estate planning in Virginia. Be sure you also sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter so that you may be informed of all the latest issues that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning.

Reference: kcra.com (February 27, 2015) Have you planned your digital afterlife?

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