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The importance of digital assets in an estate plan

When Virginia residents create estate plans, they may be wise to ensure that they do not overlook their digital assets. Important information today is often found on electronic rather than paper records, and not including usernames and passwords in an estate plan can leave executors, trustees and heirs in a very difficult position. Digital assets that may be left inaccessible by such an omission include computer files, online financial accounts, website domains, subscriptions, and social media, email and message board accounts.

In addition to digital assets, a comprehensive estate plan should contain a list of digital liabilities such as payments that are charged automatically to debit or credit cards each month. In Virginia, executors and family members of a deceased individual are able to access digital information because the state has adopted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. However, executors must have express written permission in a trust, will, power of attorney or other legal document to access personal assets like social media and email accounts.

When executors are not provided access to personal digital information, it may be prudent to ensure that email accounts are reviewed by an individual familiar with estate administration. This is because financial institutions and creditors often use email to send information that executors may need to settle debts and transfer assets in accordance with the terms of the will.

Attorneys with estate planning experience may advise their clients to keep records of when their passwords, usernames and other online security details are changed. Estate plans should be reviewed and modified, if necessary, on a regular basis, and updating the information needed to access digital assets should be part of this review process. Attorneys may also suggest revisiting estate plans after major life events such as marriage, divorce or the birth of a child.

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