Sometimes it seems our world has been overtaken by 0s and 1s. E-readers have invaded the book world, and our car’s GPS system gives us directions in a soft, feminine voice – no more folding and unfolding maps while trying to steer. Now, when someone dies, they don’t just hand down cars, jewelry, and the family silver. They often leave behind a digital footprint. Family members and personal representatives often must deal with a deceased loved one’s online accounts and records. Even lawmakers have addressed issues involving fiduciary access to digital assets.
Digital Assets Defined.
Virginia recently enacted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act to address the growing need to access and manage online accounts. This Act defined digital asset as “… an electronic record in which an individual has a right or interest.” The Act goes on to say that the term “does not include an underlying asset or liability unless the asset or liability is itself an electronic record.”
Specific examples of online records and electronic communications include:
- Documents and information stored on electronic devices.
- Social media accounts.
- Email accounts.
- Web sites and blogs.
- Cloud storage.
- Online subscriptions.
- Online store accounts.
- Book, music, and video collections.
- Financial accounts.
- Gaming accounts.
Third parties like Facebook or Twitter serve as custodians of digital assets. In the past, third parties have denied fiduciaries or executors access to digital assets when the owner is deceased or incapacitated. Privacy laws sometimes are cited as the reason for protecting an individual’s digital content from unauthorized access.
Why do I care about digital assets?
People do much of their business online now. There may come a time when you need to access someone’s digital content. Maybe you are serving as an agent, personal representative, or executor. As a fiduciary, you may be required to manage another person’s financial account, pay bills, or make investment decisions. It may be necessary to remove information from a social media account, manage financial accounts, or retrieve original content. State legislatures across the country are enacting laws to make this job a little easier.
How does Virginia’s new law help?
Virginia lawmakers have adopted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, with the law taking effect on July 1, 2017.
Under the new law, fiduciaries, personal representatives, and conservators will be able to control or access personal digital assets after certain requirements are met. However, Virginia law does not change terms-of-service agreements already put in place by custodians.
It’s important to note that some custodians allow users to designate someone who is permitted to access their digital content or indicate that they do not want to grant access. Still, digital assets should be recognized as part of an individual’s estate plan.
Learn how to address digital assets in your estate plan.
It’s interesting to read about technological innovation and how it affects our daily lives. Make sure your estate plans are up-to-date and address your digital assets. Contact the attorneys at Dillon Law Group, PLC, for a review of your current plans or to develop new plans. Our phone number is 757-962-4796 or you may use our Contact Form to let us know you’re ready to address your estate plans.