Are your digital assets protected in the event of your incapacity or death? What are digital assets, you ask? A digital asset is any form of electronic data, along with the right to use that data. Some examples of digital assets would be: internet accounts such as Facebook and LinkedIn; email accounts like hotmail.com and yahoo.com; and online banking and financial accounts are all examples of digital assets.
In the “good ol’ days” (i.e.: pre-internet), when a person passed away or became incapacitated, the family members could assemble in the home and find detailed personal and financial information in account statements, paper files and other physical records found throughout the home. You could even find family photographs printed on actual paper. Well, this is rarely the case in today’s world.
Recently, the children of a deceased client in Tucson, Arizona brought their father’s laptop into my estate planning law office. My client passed away unexpectedly, and the children who were handling his affairs needed to gather information. They looked around the house, but couldn’t find much in the way of physical records and knew that their father regularly used his computer for much of his personal financial business. Unfortunately for them, his computer and accounts were password protected and they couldn’t get access to that information on his computer. Although the family was able to hire a computer “hacker” to get access to that information on the computer, that is not always possible, and sometimes the information is lost forever.
As more and more people move their personal and financial information online – particularly in states like Arizona and New Mexico where people seem to be moving in that direction more quickly than in other areas – protecting your digital assets is becoming increasingly important. So, what can you do to help your loved ones take control of your digital assets after you become incapacitated or pass away? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Make a list of all of your digital assets and print it out on paper. The list should include all of your online accounts as well as a list of usernames and passwords. This is sensitive information, so protect this information by keeping it in a secure place. Some people will put this information in a sealed envelope to be opened only upon death or incapacity. Wherever you keep this information, make sure you tell the person who is responsible for handling your affairs where this information can be found.
2. Tell your family and loved ones what you want done with your digital assets. If you have a social networking site, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, let your loved ones know whether you want the site maintained following your death or whether you want the site removed. Some sites have specific policies regarding what happens when a person dies or is incapacitated, so make sure you check each site’s policy. If you have a collection of music or photographs, tell your family members what you want done with those.
3. Select someone you think will responsibly manage your digital assets, and give that person the legal authority to do so. Prepare a power of attorney, will or trust with specific provisions for managing digital assets. Select alternates, in case the first person you select is unable or unwilling to act on your behalf.
4. Update! Update! Update! Digital assets are changing constantly. The online accounts you have today may very well be obsolete next year at the same time. The information you provide your family and loved ones is only helpful if it is current. Pick a day at least once a year to regularly update this information.
Maintaining and protecting your digital assets isn’t difficult, but it is important. If you need help, talk to the estate planning attorneys at Morris Hall, the experts in estate planning.
About Morris Hall:
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years. Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, powers of attorney, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects. We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead. Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe. Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.
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