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21st century estate planning with digital assets

The question of how to handle digital assets in creating an estate plan is relatively new. But given the widespread use of electronic media and digital storage venues, more people are becoming curious about how to pass on digital assets in the event of a tragic event.

For instance, many loved ones may not know critical passwords or usernames that will enable beneficiaries and even estate executors to access vital information that was not shared while a loved one was alive. Moreover, many people are unsure of what happens to a person’s digital property once they pass away. 

This has become an important topic as a number of technology companies may not have established policies on how to handle accounts when their owners pass away. Indeed, they may place such accounts on inactive status or disallow them to be used, but who may access the accounts or retrieve the information?

This is where forward-thinking is useful in the context of estate planning. Essentially, a person creating a will should consider how to inform their executor of what online accounts they have and the username and password for each. Further, there should be some type of designation that would allow an appointed person to retrieve (or at least have access to) online email accounts.

Of course, some companies (such as Google and Microsoft) offer “inactive account” products that would enable a user to determine how their accounts may be used by executors and other heirs. In the meantime, an experienced estate planning attorney can ask questions about preserving digital assets.

Source: WSJ.com, “Estate plans and digital assets,”Arden Dale, September 18, 2013

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