Estate Planning Should Include Digital Assets, Says Attorney with Gilfix & LaPoll
Palo Alto, CA (Law Firm Newswire) December 23, 2013 – A prominent estate planning attorney says digital assets need to be considered as part of estate planning.
“In today’s world, many people own significant assets that exist only in digital form, whether it is currency such as Bitcoin or items of sentimental value such as family photos,” said Palo Alto estate planning attorney Michael Gilfix. “There needs to be a plan to pass these assets on to one’s heirs.”
Gilfix said that online assets may also include such items as PayPal accounts, frequent flyer miles, iTunes libraries, online gaming accounts and many others. Any system for storing value electronically has the capacity to store significant assets that should rightfully be passed down to one’s heirs. However, without a plan in place, their value could be lost.
Each provider of online services has its own policy for access to user accounts. Some states have passed laws that grant the executors of an estate access to online accounts. Of course, access to the accounts is often simply a matter of knowing the basic account information, including the relevant passwords.
According to Gilfix, people engaged in estate planning should make a list of their digital assets, just as they take stock of their traditional assets. The list should include instructions for accessing the accounts, including usernames, passwords and a description of what is contained there. The list should be stored in a safe place, where the executor or personal representative of one’s estate will be able to find it (but an unauthorized person will not). The list may be kept with one’s attorney or in a safe deposit box. It can also be kept on an online data storage service; some specific services have been created for this very purpose.
In addition to username and password access, one’s executor or personal representative needs legal authority to use the accounts. Possessing the password to an online bank account does not mean that an executor can or should issue any payments. Estate planning documents, such as a will, and any trusts or durable power of attorney documents will dictate who has the authority to deal with online accounts.