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Dealing With Digital Assets

May 4, 2014

In a previous post, we mentioned how digital assets are often times handled differently than physical assets, and how their recent advent is liable to change certain aspects of estate planning laws.

As recent as even 15 years ago, digital assets weren’t a cause for concern. The switch to online purchasing and banking hadn’t been made, and there were no digital storefronts such as the Play Store, Amazon, or Steam.

Since then, digital assets have explosively taken over for physical ones, and planning for their transfer has proven to be an issue for consumers and estate planners alike.

Digital assets can be anything from email accounts, iTunes accounts, business websites, or even online stock portfolios or digital currencies.

It’s important to keep a detailed list of all your digital assets, as trying to re-gain access to them later on can prove to be a nightmare for your loved ones. They may miss orders placed on business website, or not see an email from a bill collector, or even lose sentimentally-important online photos and documents.

Luckily, planning for digital assets can often be as simple as naming a digital executor for them in your trust or will. You should also keep a detailed, up-to-date list of passwords and access codes for accounts to pass on to your heirs. Don’t include the passwords themselves in your will, as they are liable to change, but leaving instructions on how to get access to that list is always a good idea.

On the downside, not all accounts can even be transferred. Many times, terms of use and user-service agreements can stop the transfer of assets. There are also many laws in place that prevent unauthorized or third-party access to accounts, but most of those were instituted to prevent hackers from stealing information rather than talking about heirs.

There is planned legislation to bring those laws up-to-date and allow for transferability, but it will be up to individual states to accept it. It only makes sense, though, that as everything switches to be more digital, the tools provided to deal with that will become easier to use.