|By Tim Grant, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette|
Digital assets include any work or possessions stored on a computer and the Internet. They include photos, videos, emails and playlists. People also store medical records and tax documents. As more financial institutions encourage account owners to sign up for paperless statements, the list — and potential value — continues to grow.
Each of these assets might even require different usernames and passwords.
"Because digital accounts and assets are a significant part of the financial footprint of many clients, they would have an incomplete estate plan if those assets and accounts were not considered as part of the planning process,"
While every adult should create a will to protect and provide for loved ones, a survey last month by
"It is difficult to decide who gets what, and people tend to postpone the act of creating a will," said
"We have even had clients who created a will, but never signed it because they were still unsure of its contents. … It's hard to think about your own mortality," she said. "I think that's another reason people will push it off."
When someone dies without a will — also known as dying intestate — the state decides how the property accumulated over a lifetime is distributed. But digital assets such as email, Twitter and Facebook accounts are so new that most courts have not developed rules for how to distribute them when there are no instructions in the will.
Even when there are clear instructions regarding digital assets, there are other legal hurdles to consider. Many social media websites have contracts that protect the privacy of users.
"Just because you have a username and password with the user's consent, you could still be violating laws by accessing another person's account,"
But the bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee last summer and appears to have died there.
Privacy laws are so strict concerning online activity that nearly all social networking websites have policies in place for dealing with the death of account owners. Popular sites and services like
Many people have extensive arrangements to pay regular bills online or they may have assets online tied to PayPal, e-Bay or
Some members of airline frequent-flier program might even accumulate a staggering amount of points or miles and die without having spent them. As long as a beneficiary knows the online login information of the deceased member, it may be possible for the remaining benefits to be transferred or redeemed.
A recent McAfee study showed people in the U.S. value their digital assets at nearly
"I would advise clients to carefully consider all accounts and communicate details to permit access to his or her executor,"
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|Source:||McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|