Digital Estate Planning Concerns

Digital Estate Planning Concerns

If you have taken the time to create a will or any other instrument of estate planning, you are already better off than more than half of American adults. When drafting a will, most people consider most of their physical belongings along with investments or savings kept in the bank or at other financial institutions. Digital assets, however, often go overlooked, as many people do not even remember that they exist when they sit down to develop their estate plans. Some may not even know what digital assets are.

What Are Digital Assets?

Do you have a library of e-books from Amazon? What about a collection of songs from iTunes or apps from Google Play? These are some of the most common examples of digital assets. With the advancement of online technology, there are more types of digital assets today than ever before. In addition to e-books, programs, and music, digital assets also include pictures, data, visual designs, artwork, and online accounts for gaming, entertainment, and social media. If you have even one these types of assets—and since you are reading a blog right now, you probably do—it is important to develop a plan for dealing with them after your death.

Make a List

The first thing you should do is to create an inventory of all of your digital accounts, subscriptions, and assets. Be sure to include how to access each of them along with usernames, passwords, and security questions. You should also list any accounts that are setup for automatic payments, including credit cards, utilities, and any other bills that are paid online. This list can then be included in your estate plan and given directly to your chosen executor.

Make Advance Decisions

Once you know what you have, you can start to think about what should be done with your digital assets. Depending on the asset, there may be rules in place for what will happen to them upon your death. Songs and movies downloaded from iTunes, for example, may be transferred to surviving family member, but Apple does not guarantee that transfers will always be allowed. Similarly, social media sites offer different options for your account following your death, so be sure to review them and decide which is best for you. All such decisions should also be included in your estate plan.

We Can Help

If you have questions about what constitutes a digital asset and how to provide such assets in your estate plan, contact an experienced Lombard estate planning attorney. Call 630-426-0196 for a confidential consultation at A. Traub & Associates today.

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Digital Estate Planning Part 2: Taking Inventory

Digital Estate Planning Part 2: Taking Inventory

The first part of any estate plan is to take inventory. Things like filing cabinets, photo albums, boxes of memorable nick-nacks, and safes make most of our tangible estate easy to find. Even when filing cabinets and safes are locked there is usually a key somewhere.

Conversely, it can be difficult for surviving relatives to locate or access digital accounts or files that are scattered across several computers, folders, and backup devices.

Many of us have an old computer collecting dust in a closet somewhere that may still contain photos, videos, music, important financial documents, or other digital assets.

To make this process easier on your survivors, digital estate planning begins with making a list of all your digital assets:

Hardware: Include your computers, tablets, iPods, laptops, flash drives, external hard drives, or any other device that contains digital files that are of importance to you. It is also helpful to include a brief summary of what each device contains.

Software: If you used any financial programs like Quickbooks, Quicken, or other tax programs that contain important information include them in the digital assets list.

Subscriptions: Many people rely entirely on web accounts for the management of subscriptions to phone, television, internet, finance and other services.

Social Media Accounts: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogspot, Google+, or any other forums or profiles where you have an online presence.

Shopping Accounts: Shopping websites make it easy to create an account and in many cases people opt for no longer be receiving paper statements. Without a paper trail it is difficult for your heirs to locate these accounts.

Email Accounts:Most people have more than one email address. Each account may have a different set of digital assets. It is important to include an overview of what each email account contains and if there are any important emails to keep.

Work:Make a list of collaboration sites, client sites, Dropbox accounts, databases or other file sharing programs.

Medical/Financial:List any sites that include you confidential medical or financial information. Banks, investment accounts, 401K statement sites, insurance, government assistance sites, automatic prescription refill and any other website that contains sensitive information.

Once you have made a list of the assets in your digital estate, print the document and keep it somewhere safe, yet accessible to your friends or family in the event of your sudden demise, with a copy to your estate planning attorney.

Digital Estate Planning Part 1: Taking the First Bytes

Digital Estate Planning Part 3: Passwords and Instructions

State-by-State Digital Estate Planning Laws

State-by-State Digital Estate Planning Laws

Though most Americans have a substantial amount of “digital property” or “digital assets” (such as email accounts, social media accounts, and blogs), federal legislation regarding digital property does not yet exist.

Most states rely on the particular terms of service or privacy policy of the service that manages the asset (such as Gmail, Facebook, or Tumblr) to determine what should be done with the particular asset when the owner dies.

That said, 28 states have stepped in to create laws that will protect people’s digital assets and give the person’s family the right to access and manage those accounts after the owner has died. Plus, The Uniform Law Commission created the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which is aimed to allow executors, trustees, or the person appointed by court (“conservator” or “fiduciary”) complete access to deceased’s digital assets. While it’s not yet the law of the land, it shows there’s some forward momentum and progress regarding this issue.

If your state is not listed below, that means that your state has not yet passed laws to address these issues. As always, it’s a good idea to consult a licensed estate attorney in your state to get a better sense of your state’s laws, and how you can create a digital estate plan in your state.

Alabama

Law: HB 138 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [See the full Bill here]
Status: Signed by the Governor on May 11, 1017; Effective January 1, 2018

Law: HB 108 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [See the full Bill here]
Status: Signed by the Governor on August 2, 1017; Effective October 31, 2017

Law: SB 1413 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications.
Status: This was approved by the Governor and filed with the Secretary of State on May 11, 2016

Arkansas

No legislation.

California

Law: AB-691 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications.
Status: This was approved by the Governor and filed with the Secretary of State on September 24, 2016.

Colorado

Law: SB 16-088 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [See the full Bill here]
Status: This was approved by the Governor and filed with the Secretary of State on April 7, 2016.

Connecticut

Law: SB 262 Public Act No. 05-136
Description: Executors may access email accounts. The state requires a death certificate and documentation of the executor’s appointment before the estate’s representative can see the deceased person’s emails or social networking accounts.
Status: Effective October 1, 2005

Law: HB 345 Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts 
Description: From the original synopsis: “Recognizing that an increasing percentage of people’s lives are being conducted online and that this has posed challenges after a person dies or becomes incapacitated, this Act specifically authorizes fiduciaries to access and control the digital assets and digital accounts of an incapacitated person, principal under a personal power of attorney, decedents or settlors, and beneficiaries of trusts.”
Status: Effective August 12, 2014

Law: SB 494, Chapter 740 Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law grants fiduciaries legal authority over the deceased’s digital assets and accounts. Here’s the official summary: “Authorizing a user to use an online tool to allow a custodian to disclose to a designated recipient or to prohibit a custodian from disclosing digital assets under certain circumstances; providing procedures for the disclosure of digital assets; authorizing the court to grant a guardian the right to access a ward’s digital assets under certain circumstances.”
Status: Signed into law on March 10, 2016; Effective July 1, 2016

No legislation.

Law: SB2298 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Read the full Bill]
Status: Effective July 1, 2016

Idaho

Law: SB 1303 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Read: Statement of Purpose | Full Bill]
Status: Effective July 1, 2016

Illinois

Law: HB 4648 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Read the full Bill]
Status: Effective August 12, 2016

Law: SB 253 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications..
Status: Effective March 23, 2016

No legislation.

No legislation.

Kentucky

No legislation.

Louisiana

No legislation.

No legislation (LD 1177 Maine Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act was deemed “dead” on March 10, 2016)

Maryland

Law: SB239/HB507 Maryland Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications..
Status: Effective October 1, 2016

Massachusetts

No legislation.

Law: HB 5034 The Fiduciary Access To Digital Assets Act
Description: Provides for fiduciary access to digital assets; and to provide for the powers and procedures of the court that has jurisdiction over these matters. Genealogy writer Dick Eastman sums it up best on his blog: “The new law specifically states that all digital assets are bequeathed from one person to the next. It also allows digital information, including social media and website accounts, to be treated like other assets after the owner dies.” [Read the full Bill]
Status: Effective June 27, 2016

Law: Minnesota Statutes Chapter 521A Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Full Bill | Attorney Jim Lamm’s blog post about the law]
Status: Effective August 1, 2016

Mississippi

No legislation (SB 2478 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act Died in Committee on Feburary 23, 2016)

Missouri

No legislation.

No legislation.

Nebraska

Law: LB 829 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Read the full Bill]
Status: Signed by the Governor on April 19, 2016; Effective January 1, 2017

Law: SB 131
Description: Establishes provisions governing the termination of a decedent’s accounts on electronic mail, social networking, messaging and other web-based services.
Status: Effective October 1, 2013

No legislation.

Proposed law: SB 2527 Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: Authorizes executor or administrator to take control of online accounts of deceased person. [Read the full Bill]
Date introduced: September 12, 2016
Status: In progress

No legislation.

Law: AB A9910A
Description: Provides for the administration of digital assets; authorizes a user to use an online tool to direct the custodian to disclose or not to disclose some or all of the user’s digital assets, including the content of electronic communications; provides that this article does not impair the rights of a custodian or a user under a terms-of-service agreement to access and use digital assets of the user; provides for a procedure for disclosing digital assets.
Status: Effective September 29, 2016,

Law: SB 805 Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Read the full Bill]
Status: Effective June 30, 2016

Proposed law: HB 1455
Description: A bill for an act to create and enact a new chapter to title 34 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to internet accounts and workplace privacy of social media accounts.

Status: Failed April 9, 2013
Full text: Click here for full text of the North Dakota law

No legislation.

Name of law: HB 2800
Description: An act relating to probate procedure; authorizing an executor or administrator to have control of certain social networking, micro-blogging or e-mail accounts of the deceased; providing for codification; and providing an effective date. Allows provisions in a will or a formal order to control access. [Read the full Bill]
Status: Effective November 1, 2010
Note: On January 19, 2016 SB 1107 Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets [Full Text] was introduced to the Oklahoma Legislature and is in progress. Whether this is meant to replace or ammend the previously enacted digital asset legislation remains to be seen.

Proposed law: SB 1554 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: “It allows a fiduciary, such as a personal representative, trustee or conservator, to access certain digital content within certain limits. It permits entities that hold electronic data to allow users to specify their wishes in the event they become inactive or when the entity receives a request for information. (If a user specifies, that trumps all other instructions, including a will.) The measure also permits fiduciaries to obtain a catalogue of digital communications, and sets forth a number of protocols for them, to cover a variety of situations, such as: when users consent to disclosure, or refuse, or fail to specify; or when disclosure has been ordered by a court.” [Source: Oregon’s Summary of Legislation, 2016]
Status: Effective January 1, 2017

Proposed Law: SB 518 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, Amending Title 20 (Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries)
Description: On August 23, 2012 HB 2580 [Full text of proposed Bill] was introduced amending Title 20 (Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes providing personal representatives power over decedent account on social networking website, micro-blogging or short message service website or e-mail service website. This appears to not have passed, making SB 518 a more recent attempt for executors and trustees to access digital assets after death [Full text of proposed Bill].
Date introduced: February 20, 2015
Status: This passed the House on November 18, 2015 and was referred to the Judiciary on November 18, 2015. The current status is unknown.

Law: Title 33: Probate practice and procedure, Chapter 33-27: Access to Decedents’ Electronic Mail Accounts Act, Section 33-27-3
Description: Executors may access email accounts. The state may require a death certificate and documentation of the executor’s appointment before the estate’s representative can see the deceased person’s emails or social networking accounts.
Status: Effective May 1, 2007
New Proposed Legislation: On April 29, 2016 HB 8125 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access To Digital Assets Act was introduced, which appears to amend or replace their current Access to Decedents’ Electronic Mail Accounts Act. It is currently being held for further study.

Law: SB 908 South Carolina Uniform Fiduciary Access To Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Read the full Bill]
Status: Effective June 3, 2016

Law: HB1080 Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Read the full Bill]
Status: Signed by Govenor on March 6, 2017; Effective July 1, 2017.

Tennessee

Law: SB 326 Uniform Fiduciary Access To Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Read the full Bill]
Status: Effective July 1, 2016

Law: SB 1193 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This law authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications. [Read the full Bill]
Status: Signed by the Governor on June 1, 2017; Effective September 1, 2017

No legislation. (Note: HB 383 Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act was introduced on February 18, 2016 and is currently in progress.)

No legislation.

Proposed law: SB 914
Description: Fiduciary access to digital assets. Enables a fiduciary to gain access to the digital accounts and digital assets of the person or estate to whom he owes a fiduciary duty upon making a written request to the custodian of the digital accounts and digitals assets and submitting proof of the fiduciary relationship.
Date introduced: January 7, 2013
Status: Unknown
Full text: Click here for full text of the proposed Virginia law

Law: SB 5029 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This provides a process for a digital asset custodian to disclose digital assetinformation when requested by a fiduciary who needs access to the information to fulfill fiduciary duties. [Read the final Bill]
Status: Effective June 9, 2016

Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia)

No legislation.

No legislation.

Law: AB 695 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This provides a process for a digital asset custodian to disclose digital assetinformation when requested by a fiduciary who needs access to the information to fulfill fiduciary duties. [Read the final Bill | Wisconsin Legislative Council Act Memo]
Status: Effective April 1, 2016

Law: SF0034 Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
Description: This provides a process for a digital asset custodian to disclose digital assetinformation when requested by a fiduciary who needs access to the information to fulfill fiduciary duties. [Read the final Bill]
Status: Effective July 1, 2016

Though we make every effort to keep this list as up-to-date as possible, there may be information that’s not current. If you’re aware of updates or changes to digital asset legislation in any state, please let us know here.

P.S. You really should try out your own Everplan.

It’s really simple to set up, it’s free to try, and it can make a world of difference for your family if something happens to you. Set up your Everplan now.