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What to do about Digital Assets after your death in California


I’ve just finished reading an article in the ABA Probate & Property Journal. It brought up a topic that few, if any of us, in my opinion consider when doing estate planning. That is planning for digital assets.

What are digital assets? It could be a website that you own, or an account with online services such as PayPal(tm) or Ebay(tm). It could be your online banking account or account with your securities firm. It could be a site where you keep all of your digital pictures, or it could be a social media site where you post information. The common theme here is that all of these are accessed by using the Internet and supplying a username and a password. In addition, some of these sites may require you to answer security questions in order to access them.

When you die, will your spouse know how to access those accounts? How to claim ownership to them? Will your heirs be able to do so (or your executor or trustee)? Will you want one or more of them to be deleted or taken down?

It leads one to ponder as to what do with all of that sign-on information that is so precious to us when we are alive and actively using the Internet. We safeguard our usernames and passwords. We safeguard our answers to security questions. We generally do this to avoid identity theft.

Consider this as a possible solution: Attorneys owe an ethical duty to their clients to safeguard information given to them in confidence. Give your estate planning attorney a separate list of domains, usernames, passwords, and answers to security questions, to be given to your named or court appointed personal representative, your successor trustee, or other designated person, who will then be able to access these accounts for the benefit of your heirs and beneficiaries or to otherwise follow your instructions with respect to their disposition after your death. Update the list on a regular basis, no less than annually, so that it will be current.

Most attorneys will have a client safe or safe deposit box where this information can be kept secure, thereby protecting the client from the unwanted disclosure of the information and at the same time giving the attorney the ability to provide this information to your representatives or beneficiaries after your death.

Add them up; you may have more digital assets than you think.

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