When most people think of estate planning they probably picture traditional planning vehicles like wills, trusts, and advanced health care directives. Estate planning is an area of the law traditionally rooted in documents, calling to mind the image of an executor solemnly reading a will to the deceased's family and friends.
However, like most areas of the law, estate planning has encountered new challenges and opportunities as people's lives migrate online. Just as iTunes may have caused your music collection to shift to digital and Netflix now hosts many of your favorite TV shows, the Internet holds a vast store of your personal information - and your assets.
This means estate planning attorneys and the people they represent have a whole new set of questions to address when planning for the inevitable. Have you considered who you would like to receive your digital music collection when you're gone? Do you have concerns about family members accessing your email or bank accounts?
With this come additional challenges, such as a lack of guidance from state and federal law. Technology tends to outpace legislation and many states have not even considered passing laws to govern how digital assets are divided. In addition, digital services tend to have their own unique policies for protecting a user's privacy and what happens when a user dies.
If your estate plan does not cover your assets - or if you have yet to bite the bullet and draft an estate plan to begin with - it may be time to meet with an estate planning attorney who can help you plan for your future and make sure your loved ones are taken care of.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "'Digital assets': the new frontier for estate planning," Tim Grant, May 13, 2013