As our lives become more digital, including digital assets in your estate plan is becoming increasingly important. Digital assets include online accounts, digital photos, and social media profiles. As we accumulate digital accounts, social media profiles, and digital investments, the question of digital estate planning becomes critical.
At The Law Office of Raymond E. Brown, we recognize this evolving digital landscape and hope to provide guidance on incorporating digital assets into estate planning. By staying ahead of the curve, our Maryland estate planning attorneys can empower our clients to have complete control over their digital legacies, just as they do with their physical assets.
To learn more about creating your digital estate plan in Maryland, schedule a consultation with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys by calling (443) 554-9944 or by completing our online intake form today.
What are Digital Assets?
Digital assets are still a relatively new but rapidly growing area in both the personal and legal worlds, especially as we begin to depend more and more on technology. These online assets refer to any content owned by an individual that exists in a digital form.
Any data stored electronically, whether on a personal device, in the cloud, or on an external server, are all considered digital assets. The defining characteristic of a digital asset is that it has sentimental, practical, or monetary value to the individual who owns it.
The most common digital assets that people have are as follows:
- Online Financial Accounts: These include checking and savings accounts, and investment accounts managed online.
- Social Media Profiles: Accounts on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn hold personal information and have a significant sentimental value.
- Digital Photos and Videos: Stored on platforms like Google Photos, iCloud, or even on personal devices, these capture valuable personal memories and experiences.
- Digital Currency: Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and others represent a new form of investment and financial value.
- Digital Business Assets: This includes anything from e-commerce accounts to websites.
- Email Accounts: These can contain electronic communications, including important documents or conversations.
- Intellectual Digital Property: Digital files containing written works, software, digital artwork, and other creative works.
- Loyalty Program Benefits: These can have monetary value and may be transferable upon death.
When you consider how valuable digital assets truly are, it’s obvious they should be included along with your other estate planning documents. Digital assets are more than just social media accounts. They include all your online accounts, including credit card accounts, gaming accounts, social media accounts, bank accounts, and more. If it’s a digital account, it can be considered a digital asset and should be considered when preparing your estate.
Legal Landscape of Digital Assets in Maryland
In 2016, the Maryland Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (MFADAA) went into effect, which granted access to the descendant’s representative or trustee of the deceased digital assets. Prior to the Maryland Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, family members were unable to access their loved one’s digital accounts.
RUFADAA (Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act)
The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) provides legal guidelines for accessing digital assets in case of death. It allows individuals to specify how their digital assets, like email accounts, financial accounts, and other online accounts, should be handled in estate planning documents.
RUFADAA grants executors or trustees the authority to access digital assets while respecting privacy concerns. It balances the rights and responsibilities of executors with the privacy of the individual and digital service providers’ terms of service agreements. This act has become essential in digital estate planning, offering clarity and direction in managing such assets.
Challenges in Handling Digital Assets
A digital estate plan presents several challenges unique to the digital landscape, including privacy concerns. Digital assets often contain sensitive personal information, and protecting the deceased’s private information has been subject to much scrutiny. Another area of concern involves the various terms of service agreements used by digital platforms. Service agreements often don’t cover the event of a person’s death, which can lead to legal and ethical complications when accessing these digital assets.
Another challenge for those trying to access their family member’s digital assets is that these accounts are strongly protected by passwords and encryptions. Access to these accounts can be especially difficult if the password is unknown. For example, a cryptocurrency account uses a private key instead of a password. That key allows users access to digital funds. Without that key, family members are unable to access any digital finances.
While RUFADAA and MFADAA may be relevant to the current nature of online accounts, the digital world is constantly evolving, so there is a possibility that these regulations and laws could become obsolete. Even online platforms change their privacy policies regularly, affecting a trustee’s access to a family member’s digital account. These changes and updates can complicate a person’s digital estate plan, making it difficult for families to access these accounts after death.
Steps to Consider When Handling Digital Assets in Your Estate Plan
When incorporating digital assets into your estate plan, it’s essential to approach the process with careful consideration and strategic planning. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Raymond E. Brown can help you create a list of these assets so they can be incorporated into your estate planning documents.
Below, our digital estate planning attorneys will walk you through steps to take as you prepare to integrate your digital accounts into your estate plan.
The first step in managing digital assets in your estate plan involves creating a detailed inventory. This list should include all online accounts, such as social media, email, banking, digital wallets, and cloud storage, along with their corresponding usernames and passwords. It’s also important to note any security questions or two-factor authentication details.
Also, specify the locations of important digital documents, like tax returns and legal files. This inventory must be stored securely, updated regularly, and entrusted to a reliable person or attorney.
Plan for Access
Planning for accessing and managing your digital assets after your death is a critical component of modern estate planning. Start by compiling a detailed list of your digital assets, including usernames, passwords, account numbers, and associated security information. For secure storage, consider using a physical location like a safe deposit box or entrusting the list to your estate planning attorney.
A digital password manager can also be an effective tool. These managers store your login details in an encrypted format and often allow you to appoint an emergency contact for access in case of your death. Whichever method you choose, make sure that your executor or designated representative is aware of how to access this information.
Choose a Digital Executor
In your estate plan, it’s crucial to appoint a digital executor to manage your digital assets after your death. This role involves overseeing your online accounts and digital files, so it’s important to choose someone you trust deeply and who has a reasonable level of technological knowledge. The ideal digital executor should understand your wishes for your digital assets, whether it involves preserving, archiving, or deleting certain content. They also need to be aware of and compliant with the legal boundaries, including terms of service agreements of online platforms and relevant digital asset laws. Clearly define their responsibilities and authority in your estate plan, including access to your digital asset inventory and specific instructions for handling each type of asset.
Make a Plan for Each Account
As part of your estate planning, it’s important to devise a specific plan for each of your digital assets posthumously. For social media accounts, decide whether you want them deleted or memorialized. Digital photos and videos, often holding sentimental value, can be transferred to family members or organized into accessible online albums.
For online financial accounts, such as banking and cryptocurrency, outline instructions for access, management, or distribution. Determine whether your email accounts should be accessed for important information or deleted. Also, consider the fate of other digital entities like blogs, websites, or loyalty program points. Each asset requires a tailored plan based on its nature and your preferences.
When planning for your digital assets in your estate, privacy is key. It’s important to decide which accounts should be accessible posthumously and which should remain private. For instance, you might want some social media accounts or personal emails to be inaccessible while others can be opened for practical purposes.
Think about sensitive information that you may want deleted, like personal messages or financial data, to prevent privacy breaches. For shared digital assets, set guidelines to respect both your privacy and that of co-users. Ensure your instructions comply with privacy laws and are clearly outlined in your estate plan.
Review and Update Regularly
Digital landscapes change rapidly, with new accounts being created, passwords being updated, and security settings evolving constantly. Each time you acquire a new digital asset or change access information, your estate plan should reflect these changes. Additionally, life events like marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child can affect how you wish to handle your digital assets, necessitating updates to your plan.
Staying informed about legal and policy changes related to digital assets is also important. Setting a regular schedule, perhaps annually or biannually, for reviewing your estate plan ensures that all aspects of your digital legacy are current and managed according to your latest wishes, simplifying the process for your executors and beneficiaries.
How Annapolis Estate Planning Attorney Raymond E. Brown Can Help
Including digital assets in your estate plan is becoming increasingly important. By taking inventory, planning for access, choosing a digital executor, making a plan for each account, considering privacy, and reviewing and updating regularly, you can ensure that your digital assets are handled according to your wishes after your death.
Working with an experienced Maryland estate planning attorney like Raymond E. Brown can help ensure your estate plan is comprehensive and tailored to your specific needs. To learn more about incorporating your digital assets into your estate plan, call The Law Office of Raymond E. Brown at (443) 554-9944 or complete our online intake form today.