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How to protect your digital assets in an estate plan

We now live in a world where many of our most prized possessions are housed on computers, websites and cloud-based storage. Additionally, we now access many of our valuable financial accounts online, often opting to receive paperless statements and communications.

But what would happen if you lost access to your online email, photo, music and financial accounts? You’d probably be devastated, right? Well that’s how many family members are left feeling after a loved one dies and they are essentially locked out of these accounts.

As a result, many estate planning experts are now advising people to create plans that also address digital assets and information. Of course, like any personal property, there are likely some digital files that people would rather keep private, which makes planning all the more important.

Here are some things to consider when creating a digital estate plan:

Create a list of all of your online accounts that you would want people to have access to, complete with passwords, usernames or account numbers. Of course, this could pose a security risk, so the document must be properly protected (such as a password-protected Excel spreadsheet).

Choose a trustee who will be provided with access to the digital files and accounts upon your death or incapacitation. This person needs to be trustworthy and responsible as this is a major delegation. It’s also possible to name more than one trustee for different types of accounts.

Provide instructions in your estate plan as to how the digital files should be handled and what should be done with them in the event of your death or incapacitation. Consult with your estate planning lawyer for state-specific laws regarding digital assets and probate.

Source: CNBC, “Protect online assets with a digital estate plan,” Thomas Henske, May 19, 2014

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