Digital Assets

We all keep so much of our information online now; it is important to be aware of our digital presence and actively manage our online accounts. But what happens when you are not able to manage your online accounts and activities? How will you leave a record of your digital assets for your successor to find and access?

In the past, when an executor or successor trustee took over, s/he would simply monitor the decedent’s or incapacitated person’s mail. That is no longer sufficient. Many of us pay bills online, receive monthly statements online, in addition to having online information of financial value (for example, airline miles). We would want anyone stepping into our shoes as our successor to be able to access that information. We may also keep personal information online (think of all those emails).

Here are some issues to consider: Do you want someone to be able to access your email after you are gone? Family and friends may want certain personal online information preserved for sentimental reasons. Other digital information should be deleted to prevent misuse and identity theft (which unfortunately may still occur AFTER death).

It is important to have an external list of digital assets and the relevant access information. I can provide clients with a sample form to memorialize digital information. Be sure to include all usernames, passwords, and the relevant websites. This form should be updated as needed and kept in a safe place. I can also include language in client’s estate planning documents allowing their successor to access and manage digital assets. That said, the law is evolving and requirements are not uniform among online entities. Additionally, terms-of-service agreements and federal law may make accessing accounts by anyone other than the account holder illegal. Some states have passed laws relevant to estate planning and digital assets but nothing has been passed yet in California.

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There is also a service that periodically emails you to see if you are still “there”: