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Digital Estate Planning Part 1: Taking the First Bytes

Technology has irreversibly changed the way people operate on a daily basis.

Smartphones, computer programs, and websites have altered the way people conduct their lives, creating a dependency on things and legal issues never before considered.  Many people now do not know their own bank account numbers. Instead, they rely on a username and password to a banking website. Most people no longer keep written contact and address books. These things are accounted for on their phones, computers and Facebook accounts.

The need to manage digital assets has existed since the first computers stored digital files, but as the digital universe expands ever rapidly, the need to manage digital assets has grown into a separate field; digital estate planning.

Maryland Senate introduced a new bill which attempts to regulate the disposition of a decedent’s internet presence.  SB 29 would authorize a personal representative to take control of, conduct, continue, or terminate an account of a decedent on a social networking Web site, microblogging or short message service Web site, or electronic mail service Web site.

The fact that this bill received an unfavorable report by judicial proceedings further highlights the importance for naming a separate personal representative to manage a digital estate.

People normally name someone with financial savvy to be a Personal Representative of an estate. The time has come to consider accounting for digital assets by creating a digital estate plan that includes a Personal Representative with some technological savvy.

Managing digital assets can become much more complicated than their tangible assets for a variety of reasons.  Locating digital assets and obtaining access to them via passwords or thumbprint login is just the beginning.  Digital estate planning also begs the question of what to do with digital assets.  Heirs often want instructions about whether or not they should keep certain assets such as accounts or domains, continue updating statuses, monetize digital properties, or sell rights to a website.

Just like a traditional estate plan or will, it is important to update the list every so often as new online presences are created or digital assets acquired. In the digital world, your death is not the end of your digital identity.  The need for digital estate planning is growing simultaneously with people’s digital presence.

Digital Estate Planning Part 2: Taking Inventory

 

Digital Estate Planning Part 3: Passwords and Instructions