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What to do about digital assets in an estate plan

Even people in New York who have already created estate plans may not have taken their digital assets into account. When thinking about what they want to happen to their belongings after they die, people often forget things like online accounts, photographs, emails, subscriptions, and other items.

A number of states, including New York, have adopted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act or a version of it to deal with this issue. One problem that arises with social media and some other websites is that even if a password is given to another person, it could be against the website's terms of service for someone else to access it. People should investigate what a website's policies are and what the options are in accordance with state law.

Digital assets are not limited to websites. The first step for a person in dealing with digital assets is to make a list of them. The executor or estate administrator will need the password in order to access them. This can represent a problem since it is generally considered poor security to write down passwords. A person might consider keeping the list in a safe deposit box. The person should also write down detailed instructions for what should happen to the digital assets. This includes identifying who will be in charge of them.

As with other elements of an estate plan, it can help to discuss this ahead of time with family members. This will help ensure that a person's wishes are clear even if there is no written documentation or if the written documentation is ambiguous. People should also keep in mind that in some cases, assets that have sentimental value can create more conflict within families that those with monetary value. Therefore, they should not neglect to address what should happen to photos and similar items.

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