Access to Digital Assets

Digital AssetsDoes your family know how and where to access sentimental family treasures such as digitally scanned family photos? How about your online bank, credit card, and investment accounts?  Also, consider your social media accounts and your other “digital assets“.

Unfortunately, many property, contract, and probate laws do not adequately address the category of assets known as “digital assets.”

Many individuals store important records online and do not maintain paper copies. This can make it extremely difficult to inventory their assets following their death or incapacity. Their hard-copy documents might not include such items as their bank and brokerage statements, tax returns, checkbook registers, credit card bills, and loan records. This means those persons responsible for inventorying, managing, and distributing their assets may be unable to locate and gain access to needed assets.

For all of these reasons, it is important that individuals inventory and provide a means of accessing their digital assets. Consider the following:

1) Creating an inventory of their digital assets, including websites, blogs, social media accounts, and online sites where their documents, financial information, photos, and other files are stored.

2) Listing account information for each inventoried online asset by providing the domain name along with their username and password.

3) Providing the means to manage and distribute digital assets, and designating the individuals who are to receive each digital asset following their death.

4) Talking with their attorney about how best to handle the management and ultimate disposition of their digital assets in the event they die or become incapacitated.

Fortunately, many states are recognizing this problem and making it easier to address this problem. As an example, the Arizona legislature has made access to digital assets by fiduciaries much easier. Effective August 8, 2016, Arizona law allows fiduciaries to access digital assets. Now an agent under a power of attorney, a trustee of a trust, or an estate’s personal representative can access, manage, and distribute the online assets of an incapacitated or deceased individual.  To take advantage of this new law, individuals need to make provisions in their wills, trusts, and powers of attorney authorizing these fiduciaries to access their digital assets. The Arizona law covering this subject can be found in Sections 14-13101 through 14-13118 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. [Arizona Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (8.0)]