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Incorporating digital assets into the estate planning process

A study that was completed by the Pew Research Center indicates that 87 percent of the American adult population is currently using the Internet. This figure has increased by 100 percent during the last 14 years. As Internet usage has increased, so too has the amount of data that people store on the Internet. In terms of wills and estate planning in Texas, much of this data can be classified as digital assets.

A digital asset includes financial account, pictures and emails. It can also include a wide range of other data stored on the Internet and/or stored on a digital device. Considering how many different accounts and/or devices the average American has that contain this kind of information, it can be very difficult for heirs to track down passwords and website addresses in order to gain access to the information after an individual passes away.

For this reason, it is becoming more common for estate planning professionals in Texas and the rest of the country to incorporate digital assets into the estate planning process. This is generally done by creating a list of websites, user names and a description of the associated accounts -- and any other pertinent information about gaining access to the information contained within them. Passwords for digital devices, like iPads, cell phones and computers, should also be included on such a list.

Texas residents can ask their estate planning professional and/or attorney to help them include digital assets in their wills. For example, perhaps an individual keeps a journal online and would like a relative or friend to own that information following his or her death. Also, it will be vital for one’s executor to gain access and control of any online access to investment accounts and bank accounts for the purpose of managing the division of one’s estate.

Source: The Kansas City Star, "Money Matters: Five ways to protect your online assets", Derek Lawson, July 17, 2014

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