Estate plans need to protect digital assets too

Estate planning sounds like a simple, basic concept. Protect your assets and lay out a plan for distribution after death. In practice, it gets a lot more detailed. Many people create a will or other estate plan early in life - and you should. But life changes, and the plans need to change to keep up.

It's hard enough for most people to update their will when they get divorced, remarried, adopt a child or experience another significant life event. Life events, though, are few and far between when compared to the ever-changing digital world we also live in.

Digital assets hold real value

While digital assets aren't physical items you can hold like a family photo album, the truth is that most photos today are stored digitally and share the same value to your family as those grainy Polaroids from past generations. Photos, emails, and social media accounts are often sentimental to family members who have lost loved ones.

It's not just sentimental value, though. Digital assets have real monetary worth. From Bitcoin to Paypal and credit card reward accounts, there are dollars behind the username/password combinations. Not only are these accounts worth money but, if unaccounted for after a death, they are vulnerable to potential theft.

3 challenges in protecting digital assets

It's important to protect everything of value for your loved ones, but the digital realm is simply different. There are some unique issues to consider:

  1. Digital assets can be hard to locate - Many people do not keep accurate records of online accounts, usernames and status.
  2. Accessing another person's online accounts is complicated - User terms differ with each company and many are reluctant to share access.
  3. Ownership rights are less clear - Online ownership is less concrete, sometimes owned by the online company rather than the user.

Establishing a foundation and keeping up

Besides any issues that may differ from account to account, most people are continually adding new memberships - each with its own terms and conditions. A thorough estate plan needs to provide an inventory of assets and a plan for what is to come. Estate planning laws are changing to meet today's environment but the safest plan of action is always to define your own terms. An experienced attorney will understand traditional estate planning needs while working with you to protect your full estate, both physical and digital, so your heirs aren't caught in unnecessary digital limbo.

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