Digital Assets Are Increasingly Important
More and more of our tangible assets are becoming digital. Documents, photographs, business plans, journals, music, movies and records were once all tangible assets that could be passed on to our heirs just like any other property. Today, many of these are digital assets along with other online accounts such as email accounts and subscription services. Many of us also have social media accounts that reflect our history, our memories and our opinions. What happens to these password-protected digital assets after we die?
Without a Plan, No One Can Access Your Digital Assets
The law often is a step behind technology, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to digital assets. Even though your executor may be able to access your bank security box, California law at this point does not give your executor the right to access your digital assets after you die, not even the authority to close the accounts. If you don’t make a plan that includes a list of accounts and their passwords, your social media accounts may continue after your death until the host company terminates it, and neither your executor nor your heirs will be able to access them. Worse, neither you executor nor your heirs may be able to access critical business and financial information and email.
Determine Your Goals
Make a list of all your digital assets and determine what you would like to happen with each upon your passing. Some accounts may be critical to your family finances or business. You may want to treat each account differently, such as giving your executor access to one email account but deleting all others. For each account, determine if you want to save the account, delete it or transfer it.
What you can do with each account will be influenced by the terms of service of the company sponsoring it. Some accounts may only be allowed .one account holder and may not be transferred. Facebook enables people to appoint a legacy contact who will maintain their account as a memorial.
Address Digital Asset in Your Will or Trust
To ensure your wishes will be fulfilled, it is wise to leave detailed instructions in your will or trust. Leave a list of accounts, instructions regarding each and their passwords either for your executor or another trusted person. You may want to give access to your business accounts to one person and your private accounts to another.
Laws Are Slowly Catching UP
Though California does not presently have laws that address digital assets after death, this is likely to change in the near future. Some other states have already begun to address this issue. However, you may want to consult with your local California estate planning lawyer to protect your digital assets. In Petaluma, CA Bridget can be contacted by clicking here.