I don’t have a Great Aunt Edna and if I did, she probably wouldn’t have a Snap account but you, your parents and your children likely have Facebook accounts with cherished family photos and other digital memories. Our burgeoning online activity creates troves of so-called ‘digital’ assets, some of which may be every bit as valuable (if not more so) than your grandparents’ china and silver. At death, access to these digital assets poses many challenges.
The task of an executor has always been to identify the decedent’s assets, pay the decedent’s liabilities and debts, and distribute the decedent’s assets pursuant to the terms of the Last Will and Testament. Traditionally, this process generally involved a search of the decedent’s records. Accounts and bills were identified through stored records or subsequently received mail. An Agent acting under a Power of Attorney has similar responsibilities. Password protected accounts makes even identifying these assets harder.
A working definition of “digital assets” generally include digitally stored content, online accounts and files stored on digital devices, such as computers and smartphones. In addition, accounts managed and maintained on the internet, such as e-mail, social media Facebook, Twitter) online payments applications (PayPal, Square), online shopping accounts, and online storage accounts all constitute “digital assets.”
In 2014, we alerted our estate planning clients as to the importance of updating estate plan documents to give fiduciaries (agents under Powers of Attorney, Executors under Wills) the power to manage these assets. As of 2019, laws authorizing the delegation of such powers have matured. Many states, but not yet Pennsylvania, have adopted a version of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), which recognizes digital assets as property that can be managed preserved and, in some cases, accessed by third parties following death or incapacity.
For more information on managing your digital assets and the importance of having proper planning in place, see our May 2014 article, a recent Forbes article, and a useful summary of RUFADAA. Contact any member of the Auto Dealer Practice Group with questions about your estate planning.
Additional credit for this article goes to Andrew Rusniak, Esquire, McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC.