The online world has evolved rapidly over the past few years, and for many of us, our lives are ruled by the internet, the cloud, email, and digital assets. Many, if not most, of our daily affairs, are ruled by password-protected sites. Permitting access to these sites and digital assets after death or incapacity is essential, yet the laws governing such access lag far behind the needs of most of us.
The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (the “Act”) was enacted in late 2015 to address these needs. The Act, which has already been introduced or passed in 28 states, is publicly supported by powerful custodians of digital assets, such as Facebook and Google. The Act recognizes that we live in a largely digital world and extends a fiduciary’s access to manage not only tangible property, but also an individual’s digital assets, while also protecting that individual’s privacy in certain electronic communications such as emails, text messages, and social media accounts, unless the individual specifically consents in a will, trust, or other written record. Accordingly, it is now more important than ever to address these issues, and here are four steps you can take to properly plan for your fiduciary’s access to your assets:
- Inventory/Map: Keep an updated list of your digital assets, include usernames and passwords in a secure location, and provide notice of such location in your will or trust.
- Tangible Media: Regularly back up important documents such as family photos.
- Online Tools: Use a cloud-based or other on-line tool to name another person to manage and access your accounts after you can no longer do so.
- Estate Plan: Include specific language in your will or trust that authorizes (i.e., gives consent to) a custodian to release information to the fiduciary.
Our world is changing; to provide maximum protection and benefit to your family, both you and your estate plan should be changing with it.
Joe received his law degree from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill School of Law and his Accounting degree from the University of Rhode Island. He is admitted to practice law in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and he is a CPA. He is an Adjunct Professor and lecturer at the University level and has been a frequent speaker on business planning and legal matters.
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