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Handling digital assets upon death

Estate planning has long dealt with transferring property such as real estate, funds and jewelry as inheritances. Technology, however, has created new issues with the advent of digital assets such as the information stored social media, Twitter, blogs, personal or professional websites and online bank accounts. Minnesota residents may be surprised to hear, however, that many existing wills, estate plans and trusts have not properly addressed digital property, which can end up in contentious court fights.

This property may be valuable by containing financial information or communications such as videos and pictures. A blog or website may be an important component of a business. Other valuable or sentimental property may be kept in online format such as business reward points, family photographs, movies or books. Digital information may also need safeguarded because it contains confidential information such as credit card accounts or medical information.

Wills were not intended to deal with these assets. These documents do not address gaining access though online logins and passwords which can impede access when the owner dies or becomes incapacitated.

Many digital assets are also non-transferable and cannot be left to heirs when the owner dies. Most online accounts have service agreements specifying that the person merely has a life-time lease to use the account.

Minnesota, fortunately, enacted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act last year to address this matter. This law allows Internet users the power to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets like they plan for disposition of their more traditional or tangible property.

Wills and estate plans and related documents should be updated to include language granting other trusted individuals access to digital assets and instructions on disposition of these assets. The owner should also perform an accounting of online accounts and access information so that their estate can properly manage these digital assets.

Instructions should also be provided on how these accounts should be handled. For example, the owner may want credit accounts to be closed or deleted, or social websites preserved. A small business website may be transferred to heirs so that it operation may continue uninterrupted after death.

Experienced estate attorneys can assist with this planning and draft documents that further the owner's intentions. Legal representation early in this process can help avoid litigation among family members in the future.

Source: Investment News, "Most estate plans aren't dealing with digital assets properly," By Jamie Hopkins, May 11, 2017

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