The Importance of Including Digital Assets in Your Estate Plan

Estate planning and technology - The Law Office of David B. FerrellAccording to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, 61% of American adults say they don’t have a current will. But even those who have prepared this important estate planning document may want to take another look to ensure that it adequately covers the distribution of their “digital assets.” Issues surrounding these digital assets (anything at all that’s stored electronically—e.g. photos, music, emails, tax records) are increasingly prevalent in estate and probate law. A recent study by McAfee showed that the average person in the U.S. has electronic assets valued at around $55,000. Even if the worth of your electronically stored files falls short of this number, it’s clear that any estate plan should treat these non-tangible assets with the same importance as any other type of property.

An estate plan should not only include instructions for how your digital assets should be distributed upon your death but also ensure that the appropriate parties can access the files when needed. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as including a list of website usernames and passwords in your estate plan. Even if the person has your consent, in some cases it could be against the law for them to access your online accounts. Unless the specific platform or website has a protocol in place for dealing with deceased user’s accounts, this could cause your estate executor major problems when they’re trying to distribute your electronic assets. It’s a big enough issue that the Pennsylvania Legislature recently considered a bill that would grant someone’s personal representative access to his or her online accounts (although the bill hasn’t progressed since being referred to the Judiciary Committee last summer).

It’s likely that others states will propose similar laws, but in the meantime, it’s absolutely critical that your estate plan cover these issues. Technology impacts nearly everything these days, and estate planning is certainly not the exception.

About David Ferrell

For over 30 years, David B. Ferrell has practiced excellence in the areas of probate, estate planning, DUI, and divorce law. David Ferrell is dedicated to providing each client with personal service, trustworthy advice, and expert representation. David B. Ferrell's Google+ Profile

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