Estate planning is designed to manage and preserve assets when the owner is alive and to control distribution of those assets after that person dies. It traditionally covered physical and financial assets, such as real estate, jewelry, vehicles, furniture, cash and securities.
However, more personal and financial assets and information are now kept online. This includes e-mail accounts, iTunes libraries, kindle book collections, blogs and web sites, social media accounts, digital photos and videos, online shopping accounts, memberships and subscriptions with credit card information, investment accounts and medical information.
These pose new challenges. The deceased person or another entity may own the media where these assets are kept. These assets may constantly change. Intellectual and privacy laws also complicate inheritance, while many online services have not set forth clear policies for managing these assets after their owner dies.
Colorado has enacted a uniform fiduciary access to digital assets act that contains clear rules on how an executor can manage digital assets after the owner dies. Several steps are also recommended to assure that digital assets are properly managed. It is important to make a list of all digital assets. Computers, tablets, smartphones, important computer files and all online accounts should be included.
A trusted individual should be identified to handle digital assets after the owner dies. Heirs and advisors should have ready access to passwords to allow access to digital assets. These should be kept in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box, and should be updated regularly. Attorneys and other trusted advisors need to know where this list is kept.
Finally, appropriate authority must be granted for management of these assets. This can go to an heir, an advisor or someone else who can act on the owner’s behalf after their death. Attorneys can help prepare for the distribution of these assets. Lawyers may also ensure that wills, trusts and other important documents are properly prepared.