Digital Assets: Does Your Executor Need Access?

Digital Assets: Does Your Executor Need Access?

 When we discuss estate planning, we often don’t think about which individual(s) should be granted access to our digital assets once we pass. However, it’s an important aspect of estate planning that should be carefully considered, along with planning for the traditional property and other assets within your estate.  

In 2015, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) developed a law called The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA). This law provides fiduciaries with a legal path to manage the digital assets of deceased or incapacitated people. It also provides some privacy protection for the owners of the digital assets, as well as legal protections for the companies that make, store and provide digital assets. The majority of states have adopted this law, including Pennsylvania and Maryland, while others are still considering it. 

What are Digital Assets? 

Every day, the average person uses multiple digital assets whether they know it or not. A digital asset is anything that is stored digitally that you own, license or control. Here are some examples of digital assets: 

  • Financial Accounts 
  • Email Accounts 
  • Social Accounts 
  • Subscriptions 
  • Photos 
  • Medical Accounts 
  • Blogs and Websites 
  • Online Accounts for Utilities 
  • Online Dating Accounts 
  • Gaming Accounts 
  • File Sharing and Storage 
  • Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT)  

Before RUFADAA was enacted, there were hardly any laws that helped to determine who could access these files and accounts. Loved ones who wanted to delete, modify or distribute any of the deceased person’s digital assets did not have legal right to do so. Therefore, the handling of these assets was left up to the companies who make them, which would usually result in having the digital assets be deleted or linger on the Internet. Most companies prioritized protecting the privacy of the deceased over granting access to the executor.  

What is a Legacy Contact? 

Companies like Apple and Facebook are allowing their users to create a “legacy contact,” or a person to serve as an executor for your account. 

 Apple states that “setting up a legacy contact is the easiest, most secure way to give someone you trust access to the data stored in your Apple account after your death.” Apple has instructions on how to set up, share and remove a legacy contact, as well as how loved ones can request access after you pass away. A Facebook legacy contact is someone you choose to look after your main profile if it’s memorialized after you passed away. They do not have access to log into your account, read your messages or remove/make any friend requests. 

Plan Ahead 

Just like you make plans for your traditional property, you should also plan for your digital assets, even if your state has passed RUFADAA. To ensure that your executor will have access to your digital assets after you pass, you should write a letter with instructions. In this letter, include websites with usernames and passwords, as well as what you would like your executor to do with each of your accounts. For instance, you may want your executor to delete your accounts entirely or download all your photos and pass them on to your loved ones. As things change, make sure to keep this letter up to date and to keep it in a safe place. It is advised not to store your letter on your computer due to the possible security risk. Instead, store the letter with other important documents that are easily accessible to your executor. If you do not want anyone accessing your digital assets when you pass away, consult a lawyer on ways to protect your privacy. 

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