Today’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 your digital assets are unprotected, advises the article “Properly addressing digital assets on your estate plan” from Southern Nevada Business Weekly.
Digital assets have value not only to owners, but to family members, beneficiaries and heirs. Some assets have sentimental value, like videos and photos, 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 these assets during incapacity or death.
Here are some examples:
- Email accounts–contain communications and history, including information about other digital assets.
- Social media accounts/apps: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, etc.
- Photo Sharing Accounts: Instagram, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Flickr, etc.
- Gaming and Gambling Accounts/Apps: DraftKings, Esports Entertainment
- E-Commerce Accounts/Apps: Amazon, PayPal, Etsy, PayPal, 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 digital assets to a designated recipient or fiduciary.
If your estate planning assets do not address the issue of all assets including digital 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.
Even if all you have is a personal email account, you have 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”