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Estate planning increasingly addressing digital assets

The practice of estate planning is continually changing as people's needs continue to change. One area where this is evident is in the growing importance of accounting for digital assets in one's estate planning documents. Digital or virtual assets are those which are stored on computers and the Internet.

Surprisingly, many people fail to consider digital assets in their wills. Unfortunately, estate planners do not always have the foresight to include these assets in the planning. As more and more assets are stored this way, estate planners will increasingly have to address the issue in the estate planning.

Digital assets include online bank and brokerage accounts, internet business, as well as domain names, blogs, Twitter accounts and social-media pages. Taking account of these assets after the owner's death isn't always simple. Attorneys sometimes hire computer-forensics experts to access Web accounts and services to appraise their value.

Another problem that can come up is when executors are unable to cancel services or payment schedules through online accounts. Attempting to do so may go against the terms of the service contract and federal anti-hacking laws.

Estate planners, in addressing the issue, are advising clients on how to ensure their heirs are able to access and transfer virtual property after his or her death. This involves taking inventory of all digital accounts and storing an updated list of passwords on a flash drive locked in a safe. Online companies have also emerged to address the problem.

The important thing for those doing estate planning is to have the conversation with their estate planning attorney.

Source: Forbes, "With Estate Planning, Don't Forget Virtual Assets," Chana R. Schoenberger, July 28, 2012

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