Digital Asset Planning – How to Control the Administration of Your Online Presence
By Rachael M. Harbison
Our online lives are more prevalent than ever before. From social media to online bill-pay, we increasingly store more personal and financial information on the web. This digital information often holds value, whether it be monetary or sentimental. In your current estate plan, you may have planned for your loved ones to inherit your house, collections, or family heirlooms. But what about your important property stored online – your digital assets?
What are digital assets? A simple definition is that they consist of assets owned by an individual that are stored in digital, or online, form. This could include images, videos, text files, email accounts or financial information.
Historically, gaining access to digital assets presented huge hurdles for anyone other than the original owner. Without knowing passwords, family members could not access information or property stored on computers, phones, or in the cloud. Some terms of service agreements called for accounts to be locked upon the death of the owner, making it impossible for anyone else to access them. To combat these issues, Oregon enacted legislation permitting access to digital assets by appointed heirs. What was once considered “unauthorized access” by a friend or family member, can now be overcome by your carefully crafted estate plan. You are now able to preserve your stored digital information for future generations.
It is important to plan ahead to minimize the challenges faced when attempting to access digital information. Including an authorization in your estate plan helps to decrease administration costs, and ensures that no valuable digital property is overlooked. Determining what digital property should be preserved is the first step toward creating a plan. We help our clients plan for their digital assets by providing a “Virtual Asset Instruction Letter” and “Digital Estate Information” form. These documents help you identify the accounts you wish your family to access, and which ones can be deleted. We work with our clients to update their estate plan to include provisions authorizing access to these accounts. Oregon is a leader in enabling this authorization, and we can utilize this new law to ensure you retain control over your digital life.