The importance of including digital assets in your estate plan

Digital assets can be a very valuable part of a person's estate.

It is important, when considering estate planning, to carefully think about personal assets and treasured items like real estate, vehicles, heirlooms/mementos, pets, housewares, antiques, collections and art. You should also inventory money held in bank accounts, retirement/pension plans, stock portfolios and investments. Beneficiary designations for life insurance, military survivor benefits and other policies need to be reviewed as well.

For all the care we put into estate planning, many of us still don't give much thought to our digital assets. For example, we have emails for both work and personal use. We use social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for business networking, for entertainment and to stay in touch with family and friends. We pay bills online, check account balances, handle banking transactions, invest funds, make purchases through online retailers, and use cloud services to store documents and photos.

Though it may not occur to us, these accounts can actually have significant financial value, particularly if they tie-in to our business ventures. A company website and social media presence, for example, can be a huge source of brand recognition, income and customer outreach. As such, they must feature in our estate plan. Some digital assets also come with significant sentimental value, particularly social network posts and online photographs and musings (like on a personal blog or online diary).

Handling these assets in an estate plan

Last September, the California legislature enacted revisions to the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. These went into effect in January of this year. The law gives an executor or fiduciary (such as a power of attorney) access to another's digital assets. Nearly half the states have adopted similar provisions.

Think about it this way; it could give our loved ones great comfort after we're gone to see old emails, social media posts and photos. From a business perspective, naming a subsequent administrator for the company website, social media accounts and customer data allows continuity of operations and helps maintain a robust marketing presence.

Any modern-day, comprehensive estate plan should include account and log-in information for any online accounts (bank, retirement, investment or savings accounts), emails, websites, blogs, social media, and digital property like playlists of music or videos, electronic books, photographs and movies, as well as delineating who will inherit those assets.

When you think about all the myriad elements that should be in an estate plan, you may feel overwhelmed. Trying to do it on your own can lead to costly mistakes that squander assets, leave your heirs on the hook for tax liability and cause headaches for months (or even years) to come. For help and guidance to draft a comprehensive, enforceable estate plan, contact the law offices of San Francisco estate planning attorney Connie Yi. Call toll free at 888-312-6978 or send an email to schedule a consultation. Mandarin and Cantonese services are available.