Estate Planning Hints for Intangibles and Digital Assets

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When it comes to transferring tangible assets, every state has statutes and mechanisms for administering estates, with or without a will. Intangible assets, like email, computer disks, web pages and blogs, are a different matter.


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“When a person dies, for example, who inherits the computer files, the web pages, blogs and e-mails? More complicated yet, how are online bank accounts, stock holdings that exist entirely in digital media, or the rights to exclusively online business to be handled? The proliferation of online businesses and the world’s propensity for doing business means that digital holdings very often have considerable monetary value. What if nobody knows your passwords or your usernames? Do your digital assets just disappear into the ether? Can your online business be seized and sold to pay your creditors? These are important matters to consider in our modern times,” Ronald Hudkins of asks in a prepared statement.

Hudkins continues “The dynamic nature of Internet transactions makes their inclusion in a will eminently impractical. User names and passwords change, new businesses are created, new stocks are e-traded, and new e-mail accounts come into being. Changing a will, or adding a codicil, every time your online dealings change is not at all feasible.

“Even though the law governing digital assets is unclear, largely because it hasn’t’ been written, there are ways to protect those assets and make sure your heirs are able to locate and use them.

“First, keep a master list of all your online dealings, complete with URLs, user names and passwords,” Hudkins advises. “The list should include items like domain names, where they are registered, and when they need to be renewed to keep the business name and Internet location. Put this particular information on paper, and update it every time something new is added or something old deleted, and keep it in a safe place with your other important business papers, preferably is a safety container.

“Make sure your attorney or your estate executor is aware of the list, even if you don’t want it opened until after your death,” Hudkins continues. “Instruct your executor or attorney as to when the list is to become available to your heirs – for example in the case of serious illness in the event that someone needs to take care of online business transactions in your stead. Such instructions may or may not be legally binding, but chances are your instructions will be followed, as a matter of moral obligation.

“If you have a prosperous online business, online bank accounts, e-trade accounts, or other valuable digital assets, those need to be figured into your estate planning,” Hudkins says. “Otherwise, your heirs may be stuck with a messy situation and many unexpected expenses, or even legal challenges to deal with – problems that your estate planning was initially designed to protect against.”

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