Your estate plan provides instructions for the distribution of your financial and physical assets. But you need an estate plan that considers your digital assets.
Consider all the financial and personal records stored on your smartphone, computer and in the cloud, including:
- Social media accounts
- Personal photographs stored online
- Online bank, investment and retirement accounts
- Credit card rewards or airline miles
- Website domain names
- Information or documents stored in the cloud
- Income-generating websites or blogs
- Your online music collection
- Digital photos, videos or written works that produce income
- Email accounts
- Digital copyrights or trademarks
These are your digital assets. Your online accounts are protected by passcodes, security questions and firewalls. But two issues arise if your estate documents don’t mention them.
First, your heirs might not know these assets exist.
Second, they might not be able to access them. Imagine your family photos and videos being lost forever, while social media accounts stay open long after your death.
That’s why a digital estate plan is a necessity.
From a legal standpoint, digital property is like any other property. But digital assets are a new phenomenon, and the law is still adapting. Federal and state laws prohibit unauthorized access to computer systems, private personal data and online communications.
The laws were enacted to protect consumers against fraud and identity theft, but they hinder family members’ access to the digital assets of the deceased.
Social media sites or email providers, for example, might destroy your account upon notification of your death; others permit another person to access your account only with your prior permission. To ensure your heirs are able to access your online accounts, include this as you’re planning for your digital estate.
Your estate attorney should be familiar with estate planning for digital assets. If you don’t have one, we can provide you with a list of estate attorneys to consider. Contact us for more information.