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Why any estate plan must account for your digital assets

It seems as if major corporations or tech companies now release new apps, software or electronic devices designed to make our lives that much simpler on a semi-regular basis. Indeed, it can be easily argued that thanks to these regular releases it's now easier than ever for us to order items, deposit checks, monitor bank accounts or perform other essential everyday tasks.

It's important to understand, however, that the technological mediums that make this possible, and which otherwise comprise our digital lives are viewed as more than just mere conveniences or tools in the eyes of the law. Rather, they are viewed as assets and, as such, must be provided for accordingly in any estate plan.

In general, digital assets include everything from devices (tablets, USB drives, laptops, smartphones, etc.), online accounts and licenses to digital files (movies, music, books, etc.), social media accounts and messages (emails, posts, etc.).

As to how these digital assets should be addressed in an estate plan, many experts suggest that people consider appointing someone to serve as a "digital fiduciary" in their will, trust or durable power of attorney.

They also indicate that the person named to serve in this vital role needn't necessarily be the executor of their estate, and that this is particularly true if that person's knowledge and skill set in tech matters is decidedly lacking.

As to what the digital fiduciary will actually do, he or she will be vested with the authority to access all digital assets, and take the necessary actions whether that involves downloading files, closing accounts and/or contacting service providers.

Experts stress, however, that in order for a digital fiduciary to be able to accomplish these important actions, they must have ready access to not just all devices and an updated inventory of where digital assets are stored, but also log-in credentials and passwords. Indeed, they indicate that the failure to provide the latter will likely result in unnecessary delays that create real legal obstacles for the digital fiduciary and even compromise the safety of digital assets.

If you would like to learn more about this very important issue, or have other questions relating to estate planning, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can provide answers and pursue solutions. 

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