Modern New York estate plans require consideration of a range of issues that were unheard of even a few decades ago. Of course some of the core aspects remain the same, such as deciding how to pass on tangible assets like the house, car, and personal property. But in this digital age, our New York estate planning lawyers know that complete preparation now must take digital assets into account. Many researchers who have looked into the subject have found that even when an individual does not place any value in their own digital assets, the surviving family members usually have great interest in accessing them.
A story this week from KHAS TV explored the issue. Many community members–including a growing number of older residents–have a wide range of digital data. Interpersonal communication is tracked on Facebook, photos are stored on Flickr, articles are written on blogs, and a range of other information is stored on personal laptops. When a loved one passes on, having access to these sentimental items is something that many grieving family members deem very important. As the story explained, “those things that we sort of use as a vehicle to remember each other by, those things have now become digital.” These days many more items are viewed on a screen than a piece of paper.
But when proper steps are not taken, it is not always easy for family members to access those digital items. As many estate planners are realizing, it is increasingly important for access to these digital assets to become integrated in long term plans. Stories continue to accumulate of widows and children who are desperately searching for information about computer passwords in order to get access to important photos, videos, stories, recipes, and other information that exists only in digital form.
To help deal with these issues there are two basic approaches. First, a list of all access information can be kept in a safe place with instructions included in estate planning documents (wills and trusts) indicating how the information can be found. Alternatively, a “digital executor” can be established, which acts just as a regular estate executor in safekeeping the information and dispersing it appropriately when one passes on. One advisor suggests asking “a trusted friend, or maybe even the executor of your estate, to serve as a digital executor, someone that would be digital savvy enough to take care of those assets for you.”
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