This is an article written by Timothy P. Murphy from the Northern California Center for Estate Planning and Elder Law (http://www.norcalplanners.com/) in Roseville, California, that we thought others may find helpful.
Your estate plan should be reviewed every three years or so. Often, however, people put off updating their estate plan until something spurs them to do so. If this describes you, chances are your current estate plan does not address your digital assets. Understanding why you need to include digital assets in your estate plan should prompt you to finally review and revise your current estate plan, or create one if you have yet to do so.
In the last two decades, the average American’s lifestyle has become increasingly digitized. Take a minute to stop and think about your average day. If you are like most people, you talk on a cellular phone far more than a landline, you email or text instead of writing letters and send them snail mail, you pay bills over the computer, you use a debit card instead of writing checks, and you do at least some of your shopping online. In addition, you probably have at least one social media account and you may even have your own website or blog that is income producing. All of these things are potential digital assets and should be addressed in your estate plan for several reasons.
One important reason to include your digital assets in your estate plan is to make probate easier for your Executor or Successor Trustee. All of your online accounts have a log in and password. The person who handles your estate will likely need to access some of your accounts during the administration process, particularly if you do your banking online and/or your investment portfolio is accessed online. The lack of standardized laws and procedures will likely hold up the process and cost your estate time and money. Therefore, to assist your administrator, you should take the time to make a list of all your accounts along with log in and password information. You also have the option to decide exactly who will have access to those accounts after your death. You may also wish to gift digital assets to loved ones in your estate plan. If you have an income producing blog, for example, it is an asset that can be gifted to a beneficiary in your estate plan.
Because the concept of digital assets is such a new concept most people are not even aware that they own any digital assets, much less that they need to include them in their estate plan. The future, however, is likely to become even more digitized, making now the time to start incorporating your digital assets into your plan.