For most people, a primary objective of estate planning is to ensure that their estate assets wind up in the right hands after they are gone. For that goal to be accomplished, however, you must make sure that you have included all your assets in your plan. In today’s electronic age, that means you need to include your digital assets as well as other assets. As a Hartford estate planning lawyer at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. explains, including your digital assets in your estate plan may require you to update your existing plan.
What Is a Digital Asset?
Traditionally, your assets included real and personal property which might include your home and the furnishings inside that home as well as tangible and intangible assets which might include financial accounts, artwork, or even a trademark or copyright. Today, however, your assets also include digital assets. The term “digital asset” may include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Computing hardware — computers, external hard drives or flash drives, tablets, smartphones, digital music players, e-readers, digital cameras, and other digital devices
- Information or data — stored electronically, whether stored online, in the cloud, or on a physical device. Don’t forget accounts such as Shutterfly, Google photos, and other photo storage sites. For each account, make sure you identify where it is located, your user name, and password.
- Online accounts — email and communications accounts, social media accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you may manage. For each of these you will also need to make a note of your user name and password.
- Financial and bill paying accounts — Checking and savings accounts, retirement accounts, trading accounts, investment accounts, utility payment accounts, credit card accounts, house and vehicle loans
- Intellectual property — copyrighted materials, trademarks, patents, and any code you may have written and own. Also, don’t forget to include any domain names that you own.
Why Do My Digital Assets Need to Be Included in My Estate Plan?
Some of your digital assets should be specifically included in your estate plan because they are valuable. A domain name you own or software you created could be worth a significant amount of money; however, photos you uploaded or your email account probably have no intrinsic financial value. They have value to you though and may also be valuable to your loved ones. The primary reason, however, why your digital assets need to be addressed in your estate plan is related to the ability to access those assets. You (hopefully) made provisions within your estate plan for your Executor to be able to access and secure other assets you own. Those same plans, however, probably won’t help when it comes to accessing your digital assets. Instead, your Executor will be faced with an individual service agreement for every digital asset. These are the “terms of service” agreements that we all scroll or click through without paying any attention. Buried within each of those agreements is a separate provision for third party access and/or a provision for access after the death of the account owner. Imagine your Executor having to tackle all those agreements one at a time just to access your assets! This is why it is important to include your digital assets in your estate plan.
Digital Assets and Connecticut Law
The good news is that Connecticut is one of several states that has adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA). Under the RUFADAA, a company that stores digital property may provide an online tool that allows the owner of the digital property to specify whether the user’s digital property should be disclosed to others and, if so, to whom. The law allows you to make a provision in your Will, trust, or power of attorney that either allows or prohibits fiduciary access to your digital property. If you have not updated your estate plan in the last several years, now is a good time to do so to incorporate your digital assets into that plan.
Contact a Hartford Estate Planning Lawyer
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about how to include your digital assets in your estate plan, contact an experienced Hartford estate planning lawyer at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. by calling (860) 548-1000 to schedule an appointment.