Including Digital Assets In Your Estate Plan, Part 2

Let's resume the discussion we began a few weeks ago about the inclusion of social-media accounts and other forms of digital property in the estate planning process.

For many people, disposing of their electronic accounts and other online assets is increasingly important. As we noted in our May 8 post, a plan for distributing such assets can also include such basic components as Paypal accounts and passwords for online banking.

In this part of the post, we will further explore ways in which the need to dispose of digital assets can affect estate planning decisions.

A good place to start is by simply listing out the various electronic assets that you have. The items on this inventory may range from LinkedIn and other social-media accounts to domain names for a personal or business website.

Once you have made an inventory of digital assets, the next step is to document the passwords and procedures needed to make changes in the management of the assets.

One way to do this is by explicitly including the assets in your estate plan. You can do this by using a will or trust and identifying someone to serve as your digital executor.

The complete inventory of assets, and the passwords and procedures needed to manage them, do not necessarily have to included be in the will or trust. But there should be instructions on how to gain access to them.

In effect, for the digital executor, this is like gaining access to the digital equivalent of a safe deposit box.

Even when these steps are taken, however, gaining access to third-party websites can be tricky. This isn't only because those sites may have restrictive user-service agreements. It is also because there are federal laws that prohibit access to others' electronic information.

Those laws will surely evolve as people's digital footprints continue to expand. For now, however, managing and distributing digital assets through an estate plan requires considerable care and attention to detail.

Source: USA Today, "Estate plan should pass down digital heirlooms," Sue Doerfler (Arizona Republic), April 17, 2014

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