Digital Property and Estate Planning

Almost every facet of today’s world seems to be based on technology in one way or another. From the phones we use to the cars we drive, technology is everywhere and new technology is emerging each day. We use technology to manage many of our assets as well as to store personal mementos and other important items. You may also have important information about insurance and retirement accounts stored online that isn’t necessarily readily accessible to your heirs. Unfortunately, traditional estate planning practices don’t always protect your digital property. The Legal Intelligencer recently reported on the importance of protecting your personal digital property with proper estate plan provisions.

Types of Personal Digital Property

Protecting your digital property begins with understanding exactly what is included, which can be more than you might think. The article breaks down personal digital property into three categories, which include:

Personal Digital Property

  •      Computing hardware, like a laptop or external hard drive;
  •      Related computing equipment like flash drives or other tangible storage devices, especially those that are password protected;
  •      Online accounts like email, social media, shopping, picture/video sharing/storage, website, and blogs; and
  •      Intellectual property like domain names, copyrights, trademarks, or coding that you may have written.

Personal Digital Property with Monetary Value

  •      Computing hardware, like a laptop or external hard drive;
  •      Online accounts that are used to manage money such as checking accounts, investment accounts, PayPal, frequent flyer accounts, other loyalty programs, and any accounts that may have a credit in your favor;
  •      Websites or blogs that generate money for you; and
  •      Art, photos, music, writing and other intellectual property that generates revenue or you.

Digital Business Property

  •      Property similar to any of the above that is owned by a personal business;
  •      Any online accounts used to manage things like customer or subscription lists, or the location of such files; and
  •      Any online accounts for social media, investment, insurance, etc. owned in the name of the business.

Digital Property Estate Planning

Once you have compiled a comprehensive list of all of your digital property assets, you should record all logins and related passwords in a manner that protects them but also allows access to them by your digital executor or the trustee of your estate. Keep in mind that many online service providers and administrators will not automatically provide this information to your executor or even to your heirs as they may have their own privacy policy with which they must comply or they could be barred from providing the information by federal or state law. Therefore, providing a comprehensive list of this information to an individual that you trust to administer your estate will ensure that the proper people have access to the information upon your death.

You need to ensure that your estate planning specifically indicates how you wish to distribute or manage all of your digital property. You may wish to keep certain assets in a trust that makes regular distributions to your heirs, or you may wish to designate specific beneficiaries for your digital property that can utilize such property as they wish. There may be assets that generate money for you, like music or art, that you would like to allow a favorite charity to control. Whatever your wishes might be for your digital property, such property is becoming an increasingly important part of effective estate planning and an experienced estate planning attorney can help you understand the process of including such property.

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