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Death, Digital Assets & the Law: Part 4: What can you do?

Updated Estate Planning

This series is co-written by attorney, Steven Andrew Jackson, Esq. and Mari Peterson of Compass Project Partners, a business strategic planner. This is a 5 part series exploring the convergence of death and technology on estate planning and administration.

Click here to read Part 1:  Death, Digital Assets & the Law: Introduction
Click here to read Part 2: The Estate Planning Lawyer’s Perspective
Click here to read Part 3: Death, Digital Assets & the Law: Part 3 – The Uniform Law Commission Solution

While the law scrambles to catch up in each state, what can you do?

In our previous articles in this series we have covered how technology, specifically cloud computing and social media have impacted estate planning and administration (Part 1). We’ve discussed the gaps that exist in the estate planning laws that cover access and privacy (Part 2). We’ve also discussed the solution being presented by the Uniform Law Commission and addressed specifically what is happening in North Carolina (Part 3). However, we are far from filling the gaps as changing and implementing laws, making lawyers and financial professionals aware of these changes and educating consumers is often a long process. In the meantime… what can you do to plan, prepare and protect your wishes, assets and heirs?

Knowledgeable Attorney

Make sure your estate planning lawyer is aware of this ULC Act (as described in Part 3 of this series) and these issues and incorporates these issues into your estate planning documents.  In North Carolina we are only beginning to see continuing education courses for lawyers cover this topic.  

Name Digital Heirs

If you have important photos, videos, music, data (documents and financial records) stored in an online account, then review that Internet company’s rules and/or options for giving access after death.  Review them also for Internet companies you use to communicate such as email, chat, messaging, and blog services. In this day and age, many of us also use mobile apps for which desktop access is not the usual means of retrieving the data and are only accessible through that person’s mobile device.  Review those ‘after death’ rules as well. Many companies including Google and Facebook have the option to name a “digital heir.” If you don’t name someone it may be difficult to impossible for your executor or loved ones to access your photos, videos or other personally important information. 

Executor and Digital Heir?

Consider whether or not you want the same person to have access to your online profiles and accounts and also be your Executor. In traditional estate planning these are often the same person, but in some cases you may not want that especially if they are not tech savvy or are an independent professional, not a loved one.

Maintain Inventory and Passwords

Many of us have online profiles or accounts. Choose which ones have the important data you want someone else to access or the accounts you want someone to be able to delete. Then write down your passwords for these and keep with your estate planning documents, estate planning lawyer, bank box or other place you keep important papers. At the least, make sure someone close to you is aware of where these documents are located. If you change passwords, you will need to update this information. Schedule a once a year review of this document and update as needed. To make it easy to remember, do it at the same time you do your annual review of your estate planning and financial planning or do it at tax time.

Check your State’s status

If you want to know what is going on in your state, contact your state’s bar association.  You can also see the status of the Uniform Law Commission’s “Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act of 2015” in each state by visiting this link on the ULC website.

To read a summary of this Act (The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act of 2015), click here.

Next Week: Tools and Resources to help you maintain your digital assets, learn more or get help.