Our assets are not limited to our house, stocks, cash and personal property any longer. The average person also has life insurance, retirement accounts, businesses and maybe even intellectual property; such as copyrights. But, what about digital assets? What happens to them after we die?
Estate planning is a practice area that is constantly evolving. Attorneys need to be well-versed in trust law, tax law, probate law, real property law, and more. Now, we also must be able to answer questions like these. It’s relatively easy to give advice on how to leave your jewelry to your daughter, but what about your Facebook account? Your e-mail accounts?
Most states do not have legislation in place that specifically deals with these digital assets. There is a bill in the Maryland Legislature, known as Senate Bill 0029, which will enable the Personal Representative of an estate to “take control of, conduct, continue, or terminate an account of a decedent on a social networking website, microblogging or short message service website, or electronic mail service website.” This would be a step forward in this evolving area of estate planning.
In the meantime, it might be helpful to your loved ones to prepare an inventory of your digital assets. The inventory should contain instructions on how to access the digital asset, such as domain name, user name, passwords, and answers to security questions. Perhaps you could save it to a CD, DVD or flashdrive, which should also be password protected. If security is a concern, there are companies whose business it is to store this data; such as, Entrustet, Legacy Locker and Datainherit. These companies are relatively new in this field, so use caution when relying on them for future service.
Estate planning for digital assets is just gaining in awareness. If this is an important and pertinent issue for you, think about putting a plan in place for access and control of these digital assets.
Seeking the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney is recommended to ensure your wishes are carried out.
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