Don’t overlook digital assets when protecting the estate | Andrew Zashin, Esq.

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Now, more than ever, we regularly rely on our phones and other electronic devices to not only help us navigate our daily lives, but also to store information. This information and the devices that contain this information may be important to some or invaluable to others. So, have you ever thought about what would happen to your possibly priceless data and essential devices when you die? If not, it may be worth reviewing your estate and probate documents to make sure your digital asset guidelines are clear.

What are digital assets? Digital assets range from online accounts, including social media and email, to photographs and documents you store on your computer. Essentially, anything that is not on paper and that you access with an electronic device is a digital asset, including but not limited to: online communication tools; social media accounts; purchase accounts; photo and video sharing accounts; video game accounts; online storage accounts; websites and blogs; and loyalty programs such as credit card, airline, car rental, hotel, etc., and any benefits that may have accrued over time.

In choosing what happens to your digital assets in the event of death or incapacity, it is best to first identify your digital assets. In other words, take inventory of all your accounts, apps, programs, and devices. This list should be kept in a safe place, but also in a place where your fiduciary can access it. For example, you can put the list in a safe or you can upload the information to an online storage site that allows you to give someone you trust access to the information.

The next step is to create or edit your estate documents to record your digital asset guidelines. Trustees and executors cannot demand access to your digital assets unless you specifically give them permission to do so. It might not matter so much if you want your Candy Crush Saga scores to die with you. On the other hand, without a written directive, your loved one may not have access to the hundreds of digital photos on your phone or iCloud.

In Ohio, you can authorize a trustee through a power of attorney, trust document, or will to have access to or control of your digital assets after your death or possible incapacity. Therefore, following your death or incapacity, your trustee submits the relevant document to the relevant online account manager to carry out your instructions.

However, it is important to note that some online accounts are governed by the “Terms of Service” or a “Privacy Policy” of that particular service, such as Facebook and Twitter, which want you to determine what to do with your account. after your death. For example, Facebook offers a legacy contact and Google has an idle account manager, which assumes that the user will take time to get their digital affairs in order in life.

If you are concerned about your loved ones being able to access accounts and other digital assets, you may want to consider giving your trustee the passwords to your digital assets and devices. This list should be kept in an extremely secure place and should be regularly updated as your passwords change. Additionally, if you’re concerned about managing your digital assets after you die, it’s best to speak with an estate planner to make sure your bases are covered.


Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is co-manager at Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

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