I would like to introduce you to something that is becoming an increasingly important part of estate planning but one that is just as often overlooked, that is digital estate planning. When we traditionally think about estate planning we think about wills and trusts and powers of attorney. We think about how these documents will help protect our assets, but often times the discussion of assets is limited to real estate and bank accounts.
Many of us have at least some online presence whether that be in the form of photos posted on facebook, songs or movies downloaded on ITunes, ebooks that are stored through Amazon’s kindle service, or even just personal emails in your Yahoo! or Gmail account. These forms of “property” can be considered part of your estate and an important question to ask is what happens to all of this “stuff” when you die?
The first thing to think about is who do you want to have access to this information upon your death? Two main issues arise when making this decision. One is that not many states have enacted any sort of law to deal with digital “assets”. Only 5 have done so and Maryland is not one of them, which makes figuring out how to handle these situations even more difficult. The other issue is that each website has its own terms of service and any actions by an executor may be running afoul of that company’s terms of service. Different companies have different policies regarding what happens to an account after death. The only way to find out exactly what their policies are is to read the terms of service or contact the company directly.
The bottom line is that our digital “assets” are becoming an increasingly important part of who we are. As our web presence increases and grows with such things as drop box and even the emergence of digital currencies such as bitcoins, it will become increasingly important to plan on how give your executor or trustee access to these accounts after your death.
At Sinclair Prosser Law we often advise our clients to simply make note of all of their passwords and log in information for all of the various online services they use. This way their trustee, executor, or power of attorney agent can access whatever account they need to in order to protect whatever assets there may be. To go even further, you may include in your estate planning documents a letter to that person instructing them on exactly what to do for each “asset”, such as delete all of my emails, or my grandson can have all of my itunes music. There are a number of companies that can store this information for you, and we even offer to pay for one of those services for a year to our clients.
If you have concerns about your digital assets it would be advisable to meet with an estate planning attorney to make sure all of your concerns are addressed.
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