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Should you include digital assets in estate administration plans?

Estate planning falls solidly into the category of things that we all know we should do, but usually put off. Sitting down and making decisions about the structure of our will, the distribution of our assets, and deciding who to trust to carry out these wishes is not the stuff of a heady Saturday night. However, like most things that are vaguely unpleasant, planning for estate administration is a necessity for Maryland residents.

Most of us are familiar with the basics. We understand the importance of choosing the right person to handle the distribution of assets. We work out who will receive which of our personal belongings and decide on charitable contributions. Some of us even remember to plan for the care and future living arrangements of our pets.

However, many Americans spend a considerable amount of time online, and the products of that time can be of value as well. The data that we leave behind is known as digital assets. The value of those assets is different for everyone.

Some of us have online businesses or other revenue streams that need to be accounted for. Others may use the Internet for little more than photo storage. Even if you only go online for basic email and research purposes, you will still leave behind a digital legacy for which you may want to plan.

The first step is to determine who you can trust to handle your online accounts in the event of your death. Next, it is essential that you make a list of your accounts and any relevant passwords. However, keep in mind that the user agreements for most online accounts prohibit users from allowing anyone else to access their information. Violation of these rules can lead to permanent restriction from the account.

The best solution for digital asset estate administration is to have your attorney include a brief clause that lays out your wishes for these assets and authorizes whom can access the accounts. Consider specifying how you would like your digital assets handled. Do you want old email accounts to be closed permanently without any messages being read? Should your social media sites be shut down or memorialized? Until legislation in Maryland and elsewhere catches up to our digital lifestyles and brings clarity to these issues, we must be proactive and include digital assets along with the rest of our estate planning.

Source: hometownlife.com, "Estate planning and your digital assets; part two," Dan Hoops, May 31, 2012

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