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Digital assets and accounts: don’t forget these in your estate planning

When people enter into estate planning, there are a variety of things they can bring to the table, not only in terms of goals their estate plan, but also in terms of assets. Naturally, folks think of their major assets, like their home, their business, vacation properties, stock, life insurance and retirement accounts. Each of these, and other major assets, certainly needs to be addressed by thorough estate planning.

What too often is forgotten are digital assets. These can include things like email accounts, social media accounts, websites, digital music, online subscriptions and various other online assets. Some online assets may not carry a great deal of value, though some certainly do, while some accounts may contain important information that needs to be accessed to wrap up an individual’s estate and to prevent fraud.

The problem with online assets is that there is not currently any uniform way to address succession when the owner of online accounts or assets dies. At present, different companies have different policies regarding who may access online accounts and assets. In cases where there are no access instructions left behind, a personal representative may be unable to take control of online assets or important information held in accounts.

Some companies have taken steps to address the problem, but some believe a broader solution is needed. This month, 11 states introduced legislation that would provide guidance for personal representatives looking to access online assets and accounts. Michigan is one of the states the legislation was introduced this month. It remains to be seen how the legislation will fare. In the meantime, though, it is important for folks to include instructions in their will, or along with their estate planning documents, for accessing online accounts and assets.

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