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When making your estate plan, don’t forget your digital property

When making your estate plan, don’t forget your digital property


When a woman passed away early this year, she left behind an iPad, among other things. The woman’s sons, who were named the executors of her will, were unable to unlock the device as they did not know their mother’s Apple ID and password.

According to The Guardian, the men sought help from Apple but were met with an onslaught of demands. The company cited privacy laws and said that in order to grant them access, the men would need to provide a copy of the woman’s will, the death certificate and a court order.

Digital property, just as tangible items like a house or vehicle, should be factored into an estate plan. According to Pew Research, more than half of the adults living in the United States do their banking online. Millions of people rely on the Internet every day to connect with other people via a social network or share their creative work. These Internet-based assets can hold significant value and should be protected.

What is digital property?

Loosely defined, digital property is the collection of intangible items that are Internet-based. That could include accounts, data and even rights concerning intellectual property, advertising, data mining and e-commerce. Some common types of digital assets include:

  • E-mail accounts
  • Online shopping accounts
  • Picture and audio files
  • Blogs
  • Advertising opportunities through websites and message boards

Aside from the financial value that some of these items have, many people note that their social media accounts, photos and blogging sites hold sentimental appeal as well. For both monetary and emotional reasons, factoring digital property into estate planning is a wise idea.

How it works

Just as someone establishes a will and determines how property will be divided among heirs, it is essential to plan for digital assets. There are several factors that can complicate the process. For example, many people protect their digital property with encryption or passwords that, if left unknown, will present roadblocks. Additionally, not all Internet-based assets may be valuable or worth protecting, which is why a user should identify key property in a will.

According to an article in USA Today, experts suggest having a designated person who will have access to any data and online insurance, banking and utility accounts. Instead of listing usernames and passwords in the actual will, it is wise to have them documented and include instructions in the will on how to find that document. Anyone with questions regarding how to include digital property in estate planning should contact an attorney.

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