Including Digital Assets In Your Estate Plan

Posted by Creekmur Wealth Advisors on 11:59 AM on May 29, 2018

What should you know? What should your executor know?

When people think about estate planning, they may think in terms of personal property, real estate, and investments. Digital assets might seem like a lesser concern, perhaps no concern at all. But it is something that many are now considering.1

Your digital assets should not disappear into a void when you die. You can direct that they be transferred, preserved, or destroyed per your instructions. Your digital assets may include information on your phone and computer, content that you uploaded to Facebook, Instagram, or other websites, your intellectual/creative stake in certain digital property, and records stemming from online communications. (That last category includes your emails and text messages.)1

You can control what happens to these things after you are gone. Your executor – the person you appoint to legally distribute or manage the assets of your estate – will be assigned to carry out your wishes in this matter, provided you articulate them.1

In most states, you can legally give your executor the right to access your email and social media accounts. That reflects the widespread adoption by many states of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) created as a guideline for states to adopt or use as a model for their own legislation. UFADAA was later modified into the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA).1

Your executor must contact the custodians of your digital assets. In other words, the websites hosting your accounts. In states without the above laws in place, your executor or other loved ones may have a tough time because, in theory (despite recent legal challenges), the custodians still have outright power to bar access to accounts of deceased users. Yahoo! takes this a step further by abruptly terminating email accounts when a user dies.2,3

The uniform law (UFADAA) established a hierarchy governing digital account access. The instructions you have left online with the account custodian come first. Instructions left in your will rank second. Absent any of that, the custodian’s terms-of-service agreement applies.4

So, in states that have adopted the uniform law, the fate of your digital assets at a website will be governed by that website’s TOS agreement if you die without a will or fail to leave any instructions with the website. If you state your preferences in a will, but also leave instructions with the website, the instructions you leave the website overrule the will.4

Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram have famously declared in their TOS agreements that all content uploaded by the user becomes their property. While claims like these have been scoffed at, the websites are not hesitant to stand by such assertions and may cite user account preferences to back them up – which, in some states, could mean a legal struggle for heirs.2

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Topics: UFADDA, Uncategorized, Wealth Advisor, Digital Assets, Digital Profile, Estate Plan, Estate Planning, Power of Attorney, Privacy Protection

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