Planning for Your Virtual Assets

DigitalassetsThink about the information you store online. There’s the Pinterest page where you keep a collection of family recipes, the Instagram account where you keep your vacation photos, the email account that has contact information for everyone you know and the blog where you keep a memoir you’ve been typing away at for the past five months. There are also your online bank and investment accounts, where at the financial institution’s request to go paperless you now keep records of every transaction they made on your behalf, and a series of other legal/financial documents you or your loved ones might need at a moment’s notice.

Now think about what happens to this information — all of which is stored on a password-protected website that only you can access — when you die. The article “Estate planning in a digital world” from The (Bend OR) Bulletin says that you can avoid personal, financial, and legal headaches associated with losing access to online accounts by creating a Virtual Asset Instruction Letter.

A Virtual Asset Instruction Letter is a document in which you can list your online accounts, the passwords for each one, and instructions explaining what, if anything, should be done with the content each account holds. However, the article says there’s a catch. Even if they have permission people are breaking the law when they use someone else’s password to access their online accounts. There’s a 30-year-old federal statute that’s still on the books that makes it tough in an era of increasing online usage and information. The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 threatens criminal penalties for people who access online information “without authorization” or in a manner that “exceeds authorized access.” But the legislation doesn’t define what either of these terms means.

The article notes that the same ambiguity exists in many online service providers’ Terms of Service Agreements. You know, the huge documents we just scroll through and check that we’ve read without really reading. These terms can mean someone who accesses someone else’s online accounts risks civil and criminal actions for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Folks in the Pacific Northwest are working on the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act through the Oregon Legislature during this year’s session. The UFADAA makes it clear the executor of a person’s estate, court-appointed guardian or conservator, or their trustee or another fiduciary has the authority to access the person’s online accounts to gather and distribute digital assets, prevent identity theft, and console loved ones with images and stories posted on social media.

Oregon’s UFADAA wouldn’t create a new law—but would instead update the state’s existing fiduciary codes to cover an individual’s digital assets. Similar bills are being considered by legislatures in Idaho, Nevada, Washington and 20 other states this year.

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.  However, proper estate planning is not a do-it-yourself project.  Why not call us for a complimentary consultation at 757-259-0707.  

Reference: The (Bend OR) Bulletin (May 29, 2015) “Estate planning in a digital world”

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We've been putting together as many resources as possible so that we can continue to help:

  • If you’re a current client with a signing appointment or a prospective client with a consultation and would prefer that meeting take place in your own home, we can accomplish that with a little bit of pre-planning on our part and with the addition of a laptop, smartphone, tablet or other computer in your home to facilitate this virtual meeting. For those of you that need to sign legal documents, that too can be accomplished with the use of a webcam (FaceTime etc.), so that we can witness and electronically notarize all of your important legal documents.
  • We launched the rollout of our on-demand webinar early so that new clients and our allied professionals can view the important component parts of ‘an estate plan that works’ at their convenience.  That is available on our website.
  • Live video workshops will be produced as quickly as possible and certainly ahead of our previous schedule; we will keep you posted as these events become available. Given the ‘boutique’ nature of the firm, we rarely have more than ten people in our office including team members at any one time. During this period of ‘social distancing,’ we promise to have no more than 8 people at any time.   This allows us to comply with the Governor’s directive to limit in-person gatherings.
  • The best way to communicate with us is still by phone during regular office hours of 8:30 to 5:00, Monday through Friday, or, you can email any of our team members (that is, their first name followed by @zarembalaw.com).  We will respond to these emails as quickly as possible.
  • Please continue to follow the directives of our local, state, and federal agencies. For your health and in consideration of our team who is assisting you, if you’ve scheduled an office appointment or planned to drop off paperwork and are experiencing a fever, dry cough, or shortness of breath, please contact your primary care doctor for guidance and then our office to reschedule.

Thank you, Walt and the Zaremba Team

Update to our Process

The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has taken our entire country by surprise. We understand how difficult this time is for America’s businesses and families.  However, we believe it is vitally important that we make every effort possible to continue to offer solutions that avoid disrupting our important partnership with you, your family and friends.  As you know, estate planning is not something that should wait for a more convenient time, therefore the opportunity to address your important goals both during and after this crisis should not wait.  To that end, we have added the option of a ‘virtual consultation’ to our office process.  You will now have a choice of either meeting with us in our office or in the comfort of your own home.