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Estate planning often includes digital assets

Some people in Pennsylvania may still be getting used to showing personal photos from a cell phone or computer instead of from a dusty photo album on the shelf. However, as technology develops and evolves, it begins to affect people's lives in surprising ways. One of those ways may be estate planning. While it is important to decide what will happen to one's tangible assets after one's death, digit assets may be something people neglect when making decisions about their estates.

Digital assets can include anything a person has online that may not be tangible. This could be sentimental possessions, such as photos, but it may also be something with financial value. For example, some people may have accumulated loyalty points from using credit cards. Others may have Paypal or Bitcoin accounts or carry a credit balance on an online shopping account. The problem with these digital assets is that a fiduciary may be prohibited by state or federal law from accessing those accounts after the testator dies.

Short of handing one's trustee a list of accounts and passwords, a person may wish to create an inventory of those digital assets. Some websites like Facebook and Google allow people to assign someone to manage their accounts when they die or become incapacitated. Other accounts need legal documentation before someone can have access. A person's attorney will be able to advise him or her which documents need to be completed to allow a trustee or benefactor access to one's online assets.

Even if a person's online assets are not worth much money, a person may still wish to protect himself or herself from fraud or identity theft if someone is able to gain access to an inactive account. Giving one's trustee instructions for and access to those digital assets may prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. In Pennsylvania, people doing estate planning are wise to discuss digital assets with their attorney to ensure that every aspect of their estate is carefully protected.

Source:, "Don't Let Your Digital Assets Die with You", Robert Powell, Sept. 28, 2016

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