With the growth of technology in our lives we should not ignore the concept of "digital assets" when considering the disposition of our tangible personal property and financial assets. Digital assets are hardware and software, as well as passwords, user names and other items related to social media and any other accounts maintained in the cyber-world, such as e-mail accounts, on-line photograph services, account with personal and financial information, banking and tax records that are stored digitally and/or on-line.
Technology is of course a great help to us in our daily lives, but it can be confusing. For instance imagine if you are try helping a disabled person in the hospital but do not have authorization to access his or her accounts to pay bills - even though you may be the named agent under a power of attorney; or if you are an appointed executor of an estate but the WILL did not provide you with the right to access the deceased person's computer or other on-line passwords. These are real-life situations. To avoid trouble related to these and other scenarios, we suggest taking a proactive approach to catalog, organize and protect your digital assets, and to affirmatively provide your agent under a power of attorney or your executor under the Will with proper authority. Start by developing a list of your:
- Hardware: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones, digital cameras, and storage devices;
- Software: general programs such as Word and Excel, and specialized financial, accounting, and tax programs;
- Online Bank and Brokerage Accounts, email and shopping sites;
- Social Media, storage sites for photos or personal documents.
For each of these items record your user names, passwords, PIN numbers and other relevant security information and maintain those records in a safe place (not your computer).
Next, consider who should be entrusted with this information and what, if any, specific instructions need to be conveyed to that person (or persons) in the event of your disability or death. That person (or persons) should be contacted and made aware of what you expect them to do and to assure that they are comfortable in that role.
And finally, consider including provisions in your estate planning documents that deal with access, continued ownership, management and ownership succession of these digital assets. With state and federal law evolving to meet the digital world, it is important to stay up to date. If you wish to learn more about how to preserve and protect your digital assets, please contact our office.