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New tools for including digital assets within estate planning

As more and more Americans make use of technology and the Internet, the issue of digital assets has gained greater attention. Digital assets are items of value, including emotional value, that a person creates and stores in the digital realm. This can include photographs, videos and text. Facebook, the popular social media site, is one of the largest repositories of digital assets. The company recently announced changes that can make it easier for users in New Jersey and elsewhere to include Facebook within estate planning.

Previously, Facebook responded to the news that a user had passed away by locking down that person's account. This led to a high degree of frustration on the part of family members who had hoped to access the photos and other material stored within the site. It was also a concern for family members who wanted to make alterations to the online presence presented by their lost loved one.

A wide range of lawsuits have been filed in regard to the manner in which Facebook handles such accounts. As a result, the company has announced a new approach. Users can now designate a party to act as their "legacy contact" in the event of death. The designated individual can manage the original user's account as he or she sees fit, including making the account an online memorial.

While this change to Facebook's policy is certainly welcomed by many, it is important to understand that an individual must take steps to list the person or persons chosen to fill the role of legacy contact. As with any estate planning measure, it is also crucial to discuss the matter with the chosen individual, so that one's Facebook account will be handled according to the original user's wishes. A final layer of protection lies in creating a list of all digital assets, as well as the individual(s) who are entrusted to access these resources and make changes. By completing these steps, New Jersey residents can rest assured that their online assets will be properly managed when the time comes.

Source: kansascity.com, "Your financial planner: Estate planning for your digital assets", Alex Petrovic, July 8, 2015

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