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Articles: Adding digital assets to your estate plan

What happens to your online accounts and files when you pass away?  What about your treasure trove of photos, music and videos?  How will things be handled if you are incapacitated?  It is no longer enough to develop an estate plan based on common paper documents such as a will or power of attorney.  Today, estate planning should also take "digital assets" into account.

The laws in individual states pertaining to these issues are continuing to evolve.  For instance, in some states, executors are given access to online accounts.   In addition, Internet providers have their own rules governing user accounts.  In any event, here are several practical suggestions for better management of your digital assets:

Create an inventory.  Make a list of all your online accounts, including email, financial accounts, social media sites and any other site where you conduct business online. Record the vital information including username and password for each account, as well as your other digital devices like smartphones and computer networks.

Store information for safekeeping.  There are several places you can store this information, but you must be careful. For instance, if you write it down on paper, it can fall into the wrong hands.  Alternatively, you might keep it in a safe deposit box or give it to your attorney to hold.  But remember that others will still have to know where it is located.  If you decide to store the information online, use a secure and reputable service.

Grant access to personal representatives.  Once you have created your inventory, notify the people who will need to act if you are incapacitated or pass away.  Most important, let them know where to find the necessary information and  how to access it.  Remember that they need to adopt the  same  security  measures  as  you  do,  so  you  might decide to enlist the same online service.

Coordinate with paper documents. These will work hand-in-hand with your digital assets.  Typically, you should ensure that the attorney-in-fact named in a durable power of attorney and the executor designated by your will have the authority to deal with your online accounts.  Your attorney can provide the necessary language in these documents for tying up any loose ends.

Stay up-to-date.  When you acquire new accounts and adopt additional services and devices or change usernames and passwords you must update your list so that it remains current and accurate.  Check it periodically but certainly go no longer than a year between reviews.

As alluded to above, you do not have to go it alone.  Work hand-in-hand with your financial and legal advisers.  Finally, take advantage of the positives of modern technology, but beware of the potential negatives that may result.

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