Dealing with Digital Assets – A Growing Need
If a loved one suddenly passes away, family members, or the estate planning attorney for the decedent, have to organize the decedent’s assets. The usual assets that come to mind include the decedent’s home, vehicle, IRA, checking account, family heirlooms, etc. However, a growing need is finding and organizing the decedent’s digital assets.
Certain digital assets can be overlooked, or even lost, during the settlement of an estate. These online accounts are a new class of personal property that may have monetary worth in addition to sentimental value. According to a survey by McAfee, the average internet user has nearly $40,000 in unprotected digital assets. Membership in online loyalty programs have increased more than 26 percent over the past two years and the value is estimated at 2.65 billion, according to the 2013 Colloquy Loyalty Census. This means there may be billions of dollars worth of rewards that may be lost when a loved one passes away.
Digital assets don’t just include things with monetary value. “In the old days, people passed down scrapbooks, mementos, picture albums, and musty files of old newspaper clippings,” adds Gerry W. Beyer, Governor Preston E. Smith Regents Professor of Law, Texas Tech University School of Law. “But now, many of us keep this type of property in electronic form that will disappear if a person’s survivors cannot locate and access it.” It is important your loved ones know where you store your photos, music and videos, and have access to them in case of a disability or death situation. Remember, it is important to not only pass on your wealth, but your legacy.
Fortunately, there are companies popping up that focus on helping families and estate planning attorneys organize digital assets. For example, a company called Webcease offers a discovery report that helps navigate the tangled web of someone’s online portfolio.
“This is an emerging problem. As the number of online accounts grow, people aren’t necessarily including these account details in their estate planning, increasing the burden on the executor,” said WebCease CEO and founder, Glenn Williamson. “Our primary mission is to provide a trusted, easy way for people to identify these digital assets and help them navigate the process of capturing these valuable online assets. It also reduces the risk of identity theft.”
My estate planning firm understands the importance of digital asset recovery and protection. Check out this blog I published about the digital asset legislation that passed through the Virginia General Assembly.