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Electronic assets often neglected in estate planning

Today, estate planning is significantly different from the way it was a few decades ago. Much of this is due to huge technological advancements in computing that has reshaped practically every aspect of society, including estate planning in California. However, many people are still forgetting to take into account digital and electronic assets when they are planning how they would like their estates administered.

Some of the electronic assets that people commonly forget about include website domain names and the various email accounts a person may own. Also, social media accounts, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, are considered private property and are, therefore, part of the estate. Additionally, financial accounts may also utilize website accounts in order to store one's financial and personal information. All of these types of digital assets and accounts need to be addressed in an estate plan.

It is important to leave instructions about how one would like these electronic assets to be accessed and distributed in one's estate plan. If there is nothing of value in one's email account, it is likely a person will not have to do anything, and the email account will eventually be deleted by the account provider. However, if there are items of emotional and financial value, one should ensure that intended beneficiaries have access to the digital assets.

This can be accomplished by making a list of assets in one's will or trust, including passwords, account names and other important information. One should also include directions for what one wishes to be done with these accounts. This should include exactly which individuals will have access to and control of specific electronic assets. Some people keep all of this information in a flash drive or on some other type of information storage device.

On the other hand, since the law is slow in catching up with the latest technological advancements, there could be some issues that are not clearly defined under California law. Therefore, careful research into the applicable laws is essential in creating an estate planning strategy regarding electronic assets. Also, estate planning laws pertaining to digital assets can change on occasion, which means that one's estate plan will need to be regularly updated to reflect these changes.

Source:, "Estate planning in the electronic age", Shawn Garner, August 11, 2015

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