An estate plan has many components. At the heart of an estate plan is the will, which outlines an individual’s assets and how they are to be distributed among their heirs and any other beneficiaries, such a charitable organization. Many estate plans also include an advance medical directive, which states the individual’s wishes for their medical care in the event he or she becomes incapacitated. Alongside these, an estate plan might include instructions for the care of the individual’s children and a living trust to make the probate process easier for their loved ones.
Today, it is not uncommon for an individual planning their estate to make considerations for their digital property. Although digital property is not the first asset many think of when planning their estate, it is a real asset with monetary value that many Americans today have and should include in their estate plans. Even when digital property has little or no monetary value, leaving it out of one’s estate plan leaves it open to potential hacking and misuse after their death.
Digital property includes anything that an individual creates or stores online. Examples of digital property include:
When there is a tangible item stored within an online account, such as money in an online banking account, the money itself is not considered digital property.
In 2016, the state of Wisconsin enacted the Wisconsin Digital Property Act. This is one of the first laws of its type to govern how a deceased individual’s digital property may be accessed and used by their survivors. Under this Act, individuals given access to a deceased party’s digital property through online tools have the first priority for accessing the property. If nobody has this access, the deceased’s trustee or personal representative has the right to access the deceased’s digital property. In certain scenarios, an individual with power of attorney or the trustee of a trust that contains the digital property is the one given the right to access the data. It remains to be seen how quickly other states will follow suit and enact similar laws.
There are ways to make it easy for one’s loved ones to access their digital property following their death. Two built-in tools for this purpose are Google’s inactive account tool and Facebook’s legacy contact, which allows the contact to “memorialize” a deceased party’s Facebook page. For digital property that does not have these tools, individuals engaged in the estate planning process should include their account information and who may have it in their estate plans. An agent or fiduciary should have a list of all accounts, their passwords, and their recovery steps.
To learn more about including your digital property in your estate plan, complete our online contact form or call 410-512-6605 today to arrange a consultation with an experienced and knowledgeable Towson estate planning lawyer at the Law Offices of Jayme L. Levy LLC. Our office is located in Towson, Maryland and we serve clients in Columbia, Ellicott City, Baltimore, and Towson, as well as those in Howard County, Maryland.