Estate Planning and Digital Assets

What are digital assets and why should you be concerned about them?  Digital assets include digital files, digital devices, and digital accounts, including files that are stored on your computer or other digital device, or on the internet, or any online account that requires you to enter a username and password to access it.

With the growing popularity of tablets, smart phones, and easy to use applications, people are conducting “paperless” lives.  Everything from banking, to paying bills, to storing photographs can be done digitally now.  This switch to all digital can make finding assets, paying debts, or even locating sentimental items such as photographs, more difficult when a loved one passes away.

A major problem is accessing the data.  Often a spouse or other relative does not share his/her passwords to access accounts, social networking sites, or applications.  This can make it very tricky if a relative should become incapacitated or die.  Digital data that may need to be accessed can include such items as contact information for family and friends, banking information, credit card accounts, and household maintenance information.   Much data may have been stored on a cloud application, such as financial spreadsheets, tax returns, medical records, and photographs.  There may even be a monetary value to the information stored digitally, such as intellectual property, or a book or music collection.

Many people communicate solely by email or social networking sites.  Valuable information may be contained within these forms of communication.  Further, bank statements and other financial information are often sent to email accounts, and email and social networking accounts may store contact information for friends and relatives.  The statistics show that more than half of all Americans use Facebook and close to 80% of the population uses the internet.  There is a clear need to consider digital assets when developing an estate plan.

So what can be done?  In order to prepare for incapacity or death, it is important to either share password and account information with someone you trust or make sure that the information can be found if needed.  It is a good idea to make a hard-copy list of digital assets and account information and store it somewhere safe.  Digital assets can be included in a will or power of attorney.  However, the most important step is to prepare a method of identification of your digital assets.

Attorney Peters practices in the area of estate planning and can be reached at or (603) 883-0797 extension 523.