Transacting business and keeping information online is now routine. But these digital assets may be lost or inaccessible if these are not compiled, well maintained and available to family members and fiduciaries. Estate planning must reflect this new reality.
A digital asset is any type of electronic information that is stored online on the web, in the cloud or on a computer, tablet, phone or other device. Assets include:
- Email accounts and electronic communications such as social networking membership accounts and your blogs.
- Credit card, hotel, airline, and other online reward programs.
- Digital collections such as music files, photos, and videos.
- Online storefront or customer databases containing personal or confidential information.
- Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
You may take steps so your family members and fiduciaries can retrieve and secure your assets after your death or incapacity. First, choose a digital fiduciary who will have access and manage these assets.
It is important to compile a list of your digital assets and give it to your fiduciary or family members so they can manage your assets in accordance with your directions. Keep all important usernames and passwords for online email and social media accounts and digital property such as domain names and cryptocurrency in a safe location.
Wills, powers of attorney, revocable living trusts and other estate documents should contain consent so that service providers may disclose the contents of your electronic communications to your family or fiduciaries. Otherwise, access may be denied or delayed in court.
Digital assets need to be regularly stored in the cloud to a local computer or personal storage device so that family members and fiduciaries have access.
Estate documents may provide legal access. But planning should also include other technical issues.
No one can gain access to information stored online or computer or smartphone if they do not know your passwords. Password managers have centralized storage for login credentials and safeguard personal information and passwords.
Data encryption provides additional protection. Scrambling data in a single file, device or in the cloud makes it almost impossible to access data without the correct passcode.
Federal and Florida laws also prohibit unauthorized to computer systems and private personal information. Although these laws were enacted as protection against fraud and identity theft, they also complicate access for family members and fiduciaries.
Digital service providers usually require users to enter terms of service agreements. Users may unintentionally agree to prohibit third-party access to their digital assets if they die or become incapacitated.
An attorney can advise you on protecting your digital assets. Attorneys can also draft estate documents that meet your needs.