Why Estate Plans Should Protect Digital Assets

Orange City Iowa Estate Planning

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Do you have accounts, records or information that are accessed using your mobile phone, through an internet connection, or by using a keyboard or through a touch-screen or tablet?

digital asset protectionToday’s estate plan needs to expressly declare an “agent” or a “fiduciary” to gain access and control of “digital assets” in case of incapacity or death. If your estate plan has not been updated in the last four or five years, it’s likely that yours are unprotected, advises the article from Southern Nevada Business Weekly.

Digital assets have value not only to owners, but to family members, beneficiaries and heirs. Some, like photos and videos, have sentimental value while others, like business records, URLs and gaming accounts, have financial value. Failing to address these issues in an estate plan could result in your executor and heirs being denied access and control of your digital assets during incapacity or death.

Here are some examples of digital assets:

  • Email accounts–contain communications and history, including information about other assets.
  • Social media accounts/apps: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, etc.
  • Photo Sharing Accounts: Instagram, Shutterfly, Flickr, etc.
  • Gaming and Gambling Accounts/Apps: DraftKings, Esports Entertainment
  • E-Commerce Accounts/Apps: Amazon, PayPal, Etsy, Venmo, etc.
  • Financial Accounts/Apps: Banks, Scottrade, E*Trade
  • Retail Accounts: Any store, online shopping that has a username and a password
  • Security Information: Two factor authentication, mobile phone PIN/PW, facial recognition, etc.

Here’s a little-known fact: without the proper legal authority to access these assets, the “agent” or “fiduciary” could be committing a crime. The Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act provides that it is a federal crime to access a computer and obtain information without authorization or when exceeding authorized access.

Most states have adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA 2017). The Act contains specific language to be used in wills, trusts or power of attorney to name a “designated recipient” or “fiduciary” to access, control, transfer, or close digital assets upon incapacity or after death. RUFADDA also provides specific procedures for companies to disclose them to a designated recipient or fiduciary.

If your estate planning assets do not address the issue of digital assets or do not use the specific language of RUFADDA, or generally if your estate planning documents were created before 2017, it’s time for a review that includes digital assets.

Even if all you have is a personal email account, you have digital assets to protect. It’s not a big problem to address them in your estate plan but can become a bigger program if they are neglected.

Reference: Southern Nevada Business Weekly (Sep. 17, 2020)“Properly addressing digital assets on your estate plan”

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