If you are like many people, you have built a significant trove of digital assets over your lifetime. Included are pictures, emails, documents, financial records, music files, and more. In some cases, you have direct possession of the digital assets, such as pictures stored on a CD. In many other cases, the digital assets are stored in the cloud at various third-party vendors. What happens to these digital assets when you die or become incapacitated? This is a growing area of frustration for people as they find themselves in a sea of red tape when trying to access and preserve the digital assets of a family member or loved one. Fortunately, there are two important steps that you can take to minimize the hassle on others when the need arises. The easiest method, when available, is to name a successor owner of your digital assets with the applicable vendor. For example, Facebook has a place in its user profile to allow users to name a Legacy Contact. The Legacy Contact is granted specified powers over a decedent’s Facebook account. Unfortunately, many web vendors do not offer its users the ability to specify an account successor. Therefore, we recommend that nearly all people include specific digital asset language in their Power Of Attorney and their Will or Trust. Many attorneys and online legal services are now routinely incorporating this language into these documents. However, if your Power of Attorney or Will is more than a few years old, it likely does not include this important language. In absence of naming a successor either with the digital service directly or in a separate legal document, your successor will likely be forced to obtain a court order to access a digital asset. This expense and hassle can be adverted with a little planning. Be sure to include consideration of your digital assets in your next estate planning review.
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