Digital Assets and Estate Planning

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Clients who come into our office for estate planning come for a variety of different reasons. Some clients come to make sure their wishes are followed once they become incapacitated or pass away. Some clients come because they want to make sure their assets are given to certain friends, family members, or charities. Others are concerned about who will control their finances if they become incapacitated. Some clients come in because they want to make sure their children are taken care of if they pass away when their children are still young. However, most people do not consider their digital assets. Digital assets have become commonplace in our society. We all have them and we all use digital assets every day. Digital assets include online banking accounts, Pinterest accounts, Snapchat accounts, Facebook accounts, e-mail accounts, online credit card accounts, eBay accounts, PayPal accounts, and online utility accounts. Most people have a number of these accounts, but many people might not consider them "assets." When someone thinks of their assets they likely think of their bank accounts, the stocks they have, retirement accounts, and any property they own, not their Facebook account. Most people do not consider what will happen to their digital assets once they become incapacitated or pass away. Will my spouse/child/friend be able to access these accounts if something happens to me? Will they be able to pay my bills or check my banking accounts if I am incapacitated? What happens to my Facebook, LinkedIn and e-mail accounts if something happens to me? There are many people today that do not even receive bills and credit card and banking statements in the mail anymore. Most websites even encourage people to "go paperless." Planning for the management of digital assets after death has become an important aspect in estate planning.

Many people have an estate plan so that they can give their family peace of mind by giving instructions about how to distribute their assets. However, if a family member passes away and they did not give someone access to their digital assets, this can cause stress and anxiety, which is not what the family member would have wanted. Once someone passes away it can be very difficult for a family member to access important information they might need from that person’s online accounts. Many internet companies and privacy laws will not allow a family member to access a deceased person’s accounts. Also, there are criminal laws that might prevent someone from accessing someone else’s online account, even if that person is incapacitated or deceased. There are also times where the deceased or incapacitated person’s password is not known by anyone else. An estate planning attorney can help solve these issues by addressing your digital assets in your estate plan. He or she can help you inventory your digital assets, familiarize you with the terms of service on a particular website, review inactive account policies, and give someone the ability to access these accounts if you become incapacitated or when you pass away.