Include Virtual Assets in Estate Planning

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Consider your virtual assets—including online bank accounts, web-based businesses and social media accounts—when planning your estate.

Wills, powers of attorney, beneficiary designations…these are all important steps in your estate planning. But have you thought about your virtual assets? If you were to become incapacitated or die, how would your beneficiaries access your online financial information, stop auto-withdrawals or find electronic tax filings? What would become of your email, Facebook, Twitter and other online accounts? As more of our lives moves into the cloud, it’s become necessary to include these virtual assets in your estate planning.

Follow these four steps to ensure your virtual assets are covered.

  1. Document your online accounts. For each account, list the company or financial institution, a brief description of your business with the company, the web address and your log-in and password information. Place this information on a flash drive and include it, as well as a printed copy, in a safe deposit box accessible by your legal representative.
  2. Create a letter of instruction. Specifically list what you want your representative to do with your online accounts. If you have an online business, how should your customers be notified of your passing? If you have a Facebook or LinkedIn account, how long do you want your account to remain active? Be sure to thoroughly think through how each online account should be treated and by whom, and write specific instructions for your will.
  3. Determine who will receive your online accounts. If your virtual assets consist of bank or investment accounts, they will be distributed as you have designated in your will or trust. But what about your other virtual assets? Do you want to pass your online business on to a family member or colleague? Who should receive your domain name? Or your online photo account? Again, consider each of your virtual accounts and determine how they should be distributed.
  4. Talk with an estate planner. Important assets may have specific account or license agreements. You’ll want to talk with a professional to ensure your will and directives about such assets are consistent with these agreements.

This article contains general information. Individual financial situations are unique; please, consult your attorney before utilizing any of the information contained in this article.

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Source: Wall Street Journal, Denverelderlaw.org, Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP
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