Don’t shut me down: Planning for digital assets

In a world gone increasingly remote, managing your digital assets has become an even more important part of estate planning. From email accounts to digital photos and cloud-based storage, almost everyone owns some kind of digital asset.

Terms-of-service agreements and privacy policies govern these accounts and generally expire when you die. That means surviving family members may not be able to access your email, photos, social media accounts, etc.

However, emerging laws are providing a legal path for your executors to manage these assets. These laws also provide a framework to allow tech company “custodians” (e.g. Facebook, Google, or Apple) to safely disclose your assets without violating privacy agreements.
Most states have adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act (RUFADAA) or something similar, but legislation continues to evolve.

Digital assets can include any part of your electronic record, including access to your financial accounts, bitcoin and cryptocurrency, music and photos, licensed domain names, seller accounts on eBay or Amazon, and information stored on your computer and other devices.
If your state has adopted the RUFADDA, your executors may be up against the following limitations:

  • An executor does not have authority over the content of your electronic communications (email, messages, or chats) unless you’ve explicitly granted this disclosure.
  • An executor may petition a court to gain access to your electronic communications, but only insofar as such access is necessary to settle the estate.
  • An executor may get access to other types of digital assets such as photographs, eBay, or PayPal accounts.
  • If an executor does not have your explicit permission to access your account, tech companies may rely on their terms of service to determine whether to grant access.
  • Tech companies may not provide access to joint accounts or deleted assets.

All in all, this means you need to plan for your digital assets. Do you want social media accounts deleted after you’re gone? Do you want your family to have access to your digital photos? The best way to make sure your wishes are followed is to catalog your online presence and create a legal plan.

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