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Including digital assets in an estate plan

An estate plan is typically focused on the distribution of physical assets after one's death, but online activities and assets are increasingly important to consider in end-of-life planning. According to research, more than 50 percent of adults in California and around the country conduct their banking activities online. Nearly one-third use their mobile devices for banking. Online activities may also result in both financially and sentimentally valuable assets.

Challenges in dealing with digital assets after someone dies can result as surviving heirs attempt to locate and access them. Additionally, the value of such properties may not be immediately known. Password protection, data privacy laws and other issues related to account access can also present challenges. An individual possessing digital assets to be later distributed through an estate plan should create a comprehensive listing of details such as sites, usernames, passwords and other important information.

As an inventory of digital property is developed, it is important to recognize that a will eventually becomes a public document. This makes it important to omit sensitive data from the document. Rather, an estate plan should contain instructions on where to locate that sensitive information. This may be a location such as a safe or a safe deposit box. It is also helpful to note that social media accounts may be included in these instructions. An estate plan may include wishes for memorializing or deleting accounts with sites such as Facebook along with the designation of representatives authorized to handle the action.

Unclear directions or incomplete listings of digital or real property assets may result in these properties not being transferred to those for whom they are intended. An estate planning lawyer may assist by bringing a comprehensive list of potential digital and other assets to a client's attention during the planning process.

Source: USA Today, "Estate Planning 101: Don't forget digital assets", Eric McWhinnie, May 25, 2014

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