When people think about estate planning, they are typically concerned with the distribution of physical assets at their deaths. However, most people fail to consider (and plan for) their digital assets.
Digital assets are digital property that has to do with our electronic devices, and includes all of the content that we own and have stored electronically In other words, digital assets may include the content in our online bank and credit card accounts; music, movies, pictures and books in electronic devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets, and in our email and social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.
Without a plan in place, you risk burying your family in red tape as they try to get access to and deal with your online accounts that may have sentimental, practical or monetary value. If you have an email account, your emails might be deleted before your family has a chance to review them. In other cases, maybe your family gains access to emails that you’d rather they didn’t see. Same goes with the content of a Facebook account.
Additionally, certain industry estimates place the average value of a person’s digital assets at around $30,000. It’s clearly not only an issue of family photos and other sentimental assets. If you have an online-only bank account or a PayPal account (or Bitcoins), your executor may never know about that account if not for your digital estate plan.
But planning for online assets can be complicated: These accounts often are governed by the terms-of-service agreement to which you agreed upon opening the account. Often, service providers have created those agreements to comply with federal laws that limit access to account information to authorized users. Plus, most state laws don’t offer specific support to executors in taking control of digital assets. Next year, Florida is expected to adopt a law that, once enacted, would give estate representatives and trustees easier access to digital assets, making it easier to retrieve a loved one’s stored data.