Estate planning in the electronic age: protecting your digital assets

Take a moment to think about your digital footprint. Do you have accounts on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest? What about business networks like those established by industry groups, alumni associations or on LinkedIn? Do you have online access to pay your credit cards, utilities, mortgage, car payments, student loans or other debts? Can you remotely access your bank, stock, savings or brokerage accounts? Does your business have a website or online retail outlet hosted by a larger clearinghouse like eBay, Etsy or Amazon?

All of these examples are types of digital assets that your loved ones may want or need to access after you are gone. By thinking ahead, and making your intangible electronic property part of your real-life estate plan, you can save your heirs much aggravation, confusion, and stress while they handle your final affairs.

Important considerations

Keep thinking about your online accounts for a bit longer. If you are like most people, you have a range of usernames and passwords for the many sites you access regularly. Have you taken the time to compile all those in one spot, like an online password manager or in a secure spreadsheet? If you haven’t, take the time to do so. It is very important that your loved ones know what types of accounts you have, and be able to access them following your incapacity or death.

Even adding a single proviso to your estate plan granting an executor or power of attorney the right to access your accounts can make a huge difference. Of course, that won’t take care of potential conflicts between California state and federal privacy laws and the unique terms and conditions set forth by each website, but it at least gives them a legal leg to stand on by showing that you intended to make accounts accessible.

The domain dilemma

If your business has its own website, you may need to take additional estate planning measures to ensure that, if the company continues following your death, the site will continue on, along with the customer base, goodwill and product recognition you have established. This could mean that you have to leave explicit instructions in your estate plan that billing matters for the hosting of the site, the ability to make changes to the site and other administrative issues will be handled by a particular trusted friend, family member, business partner or colleague.

Covering all your bases

Clearly, there are many things – both online and in real life – to consider when drafting an estate plan. You want to look out for your loved ones while still having your wishes honored, and there are many details that you might overlook. To ensure that your estate plan meets your needs, achieves your goals and protects your assets, work with a skilled estate planning attorney like the ones at the Law Offices of Yacoba Ann Feldman.

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