When you consider your estate planning, you might think the existence of a simple Will is all you need to transfer of all your assets. If this is the case, you are overlooking a vital piece of your property: digital assets.
In today’s digital world, estate planning is becoming increasingly complicated. Say you take a picture using your phone and store the image on the memory card. If you give all of your tangible personal property to your heirs, which would include your phone (and therefore the memory card), does that include all the files on that card? What if you posted the picture on Facebook or some other media; would you own the rights to the picture itself, or would Facebook? This complexity is not only present when it comes to the ownership of images, but with all sorts of digital assets: Word documents, electronic mail, online access to bank accounts, social media accounts; the list goes on.
In the past, the service providers of these digital assets controlled who would have access to your assets after you pass. Consequently, personal representatives faced conflicts when trying to administer a decedent’s estate.
Currently, New York laws define which digital assets are considered digital content and restrict personal representatives from receiving automatic access to such information. For example, a personal representative can access your digital calendar more easily than your emails, because while your emails are considered content, your calendar is not. Although these regulations are in effort to protect your personal privacy, they could restrict anyone from accessing your digital assets, and your online files could become lost.
To protect your digital assets and ensure that a personal representative will not face challenges when accessing them, it is crucial that you discuss the assets in your Will while explicitly granting access of all online accounts to the designated person. Prepare a list of all your usernames and passwords, and keep it as current as possible, so that in the event of your death, the person in charge of your estate has access.
Too often do people fail to recognize the necessity of properly passing on the right to their digital assets. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, plan your estate with the help of a qualified professional. To discuss how to best protect your assets, please contact us.