Many people inadvertently omit assets when constructing an estate plan. Recent technology has given rise to less tangible assets that can be extremely important though easily overlooked. Examples of assets that people often do not consider when constructing an estate plan include future inheritance and potential judgements or settlements from lawsuits. Along with these more traditional intangible assets, extensive use of the Internet and social media websites have given rise to a new estate planning consideration – digital assets.
The innovation of cloud storage, social media pages, and other electronic data assets has shifted a fair amount of the estate planning administration process from paper documents to electronic files. Even ten years ago, administration of an estate plan and disposition of assets would have entailed an extensive search to gather all relevant financial and ownership documents. A significant number of people now use the Internet to securely handle banking transactions, investment accounts, and intellectual property interests. Whether the data involves irreplaceable photos of long deceased loved ones or a development plan yet to be implemented, the overwhelming presence of online financial activity makes it essential to account for digital assets when constructing an estate plan.
If you are over the age of fifty, there might be a tendency to assume management of digital assets in the context of legacy succession only applies to young people. Although digital assets constitute a newer area of focus in estate planning, this form of intangible property interest is not limited to teens and young adults who devote many hours posting information on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Instagram, and other popular social networking websites.
The importance of estate planning in the context of digital assets first achieved national prominence following the death of a member of the U.S. military. The soldier’s family was denied access to his email account with Yahoo.com after the man died in action. Since he did not have any estate planning documents prepared, the online service provider refused to grant access to this information.
Because the world is increasingly becoming a paperless society in terms of financial transactions and records, access to online accounts and websites, such as email accounts, online banking accounts, pensions, or 401K accounts is vital to managing an estate plan. Although some of the information can still be gathered by rummaging through the basement or attic of a deceased loved one’s home, an asset management plan that authorizes access to an individual’s electronic data provides a more efficient approach to management of an estate plan.
Without appropriate digital asset management, pictures, letters, and documents with significant sentimental value can be lost forever. An increasing number of people save photos on web-based storage websites like Flickr or Shutterfly. Proper digital asset planning involves ensuring someone is designated to access and preserve these cherished records of family history. When an individual’s estate plan indicates a decedent’s intentions regarding access to these items stored on cloud locations or related websites, the materials will be available for subsequent generations.
If you have questions about estate planning and succession of digital assets, we welcome the opportunity to talk to you and answer your questions. We invite you to call Dawes Legal, LLC at 614-733-9999 or submit an inquiry form through this website to schedule your initial consultation.