Estate Plans and Digital Assets

Digital Assets

Estate planning is the process of developing strategies for the efficient disposition and transfer of one’s assets when one’s time on this earth has elapsed.  Proper estate planning is a blessing to those left behind because the failure to plan can create numerous headaches, unnecessary taxes, legal quagmires and often acrimonious interactions between heirs. At first glance, it would appear that the bases would all be covered if the deceased had done adequate planning with regards to financial assets and personal belongings.

But, what about digital assets?  There can be significant sentimental as well as financial value to the deceased person’s digital files, photos, images, e-mail accounts, blogs etc.  Likewise, social media accounts including Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube can represent items of importance to survivors.  The deceased may have owned a business where its website was a major driver of revenue and income, yet ownership of the domain may be uncertain when the original owner passes away.

Fortunately, 38 U.S. jurisdictions including Colorado, Florida, California and Utah et al have adopted some form of The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, Revised (2015) known as simply as “RUFADAA”.  This act “recognizes the existence of digital property as a property right that can be managed, conserved and, in certain circumstances, accessed by third parties, in much the same manner as other rights in real and tangible personal property”1

So, readers should take the time to contemplate the significance of their digital assets.  Likewise, these thoughts should translate into a needed revisit of estate planning documents (or in the case of nearly half of America, an initial visit to an estate planning attorney).  Dealing with the passage of a loved one has always been challenging and the digital complexity of modern life has simply added an additional factor for consideration.

1Journal of Financial Planning, April 2018, pg. 20.