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E-mail, social media and digital assets in an estate plan


When crafting their estate plans, Washington residents think a lot about how to divide their financial assets, sentimental items and uniquely valuable pieces of property such as artwork or antiques. These are all important things to consider, but there is another category of assets many people forget about: digital assets.

As more Americans are spending more of their time online, they are building up e-mail addresses, social media pages and other online accounts. Some of these have value mostly in a sentimental sense, like an old diary or address book. Others, such as online investment accounts, online bank accounts or bitcoin accounts, can have real monetary value.

When the owner of these accounts dies without working digital assets into an estate plan, it can lead to a lot of confusion. In some cases, heirs might not even know about the existence of the assets if they are not mentioned in a will or other estate planning documents. In others, the heirs and executor may know about the assets but not be able to access them because they don't have the passwords. In some of these cases, those trying to access the accounts may even fall afoul of laws that were designed to combat hackers.

Many, if not most of these problems can be avoided by making digital assets part of the distribution of property in a will or trust. Estate planning documents can provide passwords or other information and empower an executor to oversee the digital assets.

There are many things to consider when crafting an estate plan. A Washington estate planning attorney can help clients to plan for all kinds of assets and circumstances.

Source: USA Today, "Estate plan should pass down digital heirlooms," Sue Doerfler, April 17, 2014

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