People often expect that an estate plan will provide for traditional assets like a home, jewelry, cash or bank accounts. Many people are unaware, however, of the extent of their digital assets created and used in daily life, as well as what happens to those digital assets upon death. More and more often, individuals rely on online accounts and own assets that may exist only on the Internet. These “digital assets” may include financial accounts, internet-based businesses, social media accounts, photographs, documents, and other digital files. Each of these assets may require a different username and password to access and manage.
What Are Digital Assets?
“Digital assets” consist of any:
Some categories and examples of digital assets include:
Importance of Planning for Digital Assets
There are several reasons why it is important to plan for digital assets. Proper planning may:
Although placing instructions in a power of attorney, will, trust or other freestanding document may not guarantee that your instructions will be followed, doing so would make it much more likely. Make clear in a power of attorney, will, trust or other document whether you would like for your fiduciaries to have management authority over digital assets or whether you would like to specifically withhold such authority.
Options in Planning for Digital Assets
Power of Attorney
Instructions can be added to a financial power of attorney granting or withholding the authority to manage the online accounts and digital assets and access to the content of electronic communications.
Will or Trust
Instructions should be added to a will or trust granting or withholding from the personal representative or trustee the authority to manage digital assets and have access to the content of electronic communications. In addition, the disposition of digital assets may be provided for in the will or trust, either adding them as a specific bequest or simply including them in the list of personal effects given to a spouse or children. Some digital assets may not be transferable upon death, but some may be, so wishes regarding disposition should be made clear just in case those wishes can be followed.
Grant Immediate Access
Some service providers, such as Shutterfly and DropBox, specifically allow multiple individuals to have access. If you are willing to allow others to have access to some assets now, check your service provider's terms of service for this option.