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Do not overlook digital assets when estate planning

When people write their wills, they usually dedicate a great deal of time trying to decide how to distribute their possessions to those who will survive them. More people are beginning to realize that they have considerable digital assets, and they need to include them in their estate planning.

Cataloging digital assets

People hold a wide array of digital assets that they should include in their estate plans, and some may not realize all that they own digitally. Digital assets can have sentimental value such as photographs that people have online, blogs or writing people stored online or videos people have uploaded to video sharing sites like YouTube. These assets can also have commercial value like music, movies and video games that people have purchased and stored online. Some people have online stores on sites like eBay and Etsy and receive funds from those online transactions in an account with the widely-known online financial transaction service PayPal.

Many people have set up online access to their bank accounts, and they should include such access in their inventory of digital assets. People should also list sites where they make purchases and may have stored credit card or bank account information.

People's email and social media accounts are also assets, and people need to have a plan for what they want to happen to those accounts after they die.

Helping surviving loved ones

Without guidance, an executor or personal representative of an estate will have no idea where to begin trying to sort out and handle all of a person's digital assets. In order to make an executor's job easier, a person should create a list of all of his or her digital assets and the passwords and usernames necessary to access all of those accounts. People should store the list in a safe place, either at home or with an online storage service provider, and leave directions where to find the list. It is important to keep the list current, updating it as passwords or usernames change. Estate planning experts advise against including the list in a will, as wills are public record after a person dies.

Privacy rules on many social media sites will not allow the companies to give passwords or usernames to executors or family members of a deceased person, but these sites will usually let the family or executor have access to the content of the site. Leaving an executor usernames and passwords for the sites makes the process go more smoothly.

People may also want to consider the technical skills of the person they are considering naming as executor. If someone has an extensive collection of digital assets, it may not be wise to name an executor who has little technological familiarity.

Speak with an attorney

Making an estate plan may seem daunting enough without having to include digital assets. However, a skilled estate planning attorney can assist with the process and help ensure that an estate plan is comprehensive and suited to an individual's specific circumstances. If you have questions about your estate plan, consult a knowledgeable estate planning attorney for guidance.