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Estate planning in the digital age

People in California may recall the story of a soldier who was killed by a bomb in Iraq, and his father, who went to court to get Yahoo to release his son's emails. Who gets digital assets after someone passes away is a new area of law and an issue people should address in their estate planning. Who gets access to emails, social media accounts and even things like paid downloads of music and videos should all be spelled out in an estate plan to avoid confusion and unintended results.

Although most email providers have terms of service that protect users' privacy even in the event of death, some probate courts and family members are going around these rules to get access to information that people might never have wanted shared. People can state in their will that they do not wish anyone to have access to their personal accounts, or they could grant access or ownership to a loved one as long as terms of service are not violated. Facebook, Twitter and similar sites typically address matters such as how to close down an account when a person has passed away.

In order to include these matters in an estate plan, the first thing people should do is write out an inventory of digital assets. Choosing an executor to handle digital assets and creating instructions for what that person should do is also important. In some cases, executors for digital assets may be the same as chosen to handle the other property in the will, but they do not have to be.

Thorough estate planning relieves a major burden for loved ones and gives people peace of mind that their final wishes will be respected. An attorney could assist with the necessary forms and procedures for naming executors and granting them rights to access digital assets. This could help to avoid unnecessary conflict between family members of the decedent.

Source: Flip The Media , "I’ll Tweet When I’m Dead: Estate Planning in the Digital Age", Connie Rock , July 28, 2014

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