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Estate planning is needed for digital asset protection

Nearly every Massachusetts resident has an online presence. Social media, online only bank accounts and investment accounts are becoming the norm. What happens to these accounts when an individual dies? A growing number of people who engage in estate planning are concerned about digital asset protection, but the laws not able to keep up with technological changes.

Online only bank and investment accounts can still be transferred to an heir or beneficiary. However, the process for doing so could be different for each account. It would be beneficial to do some research up front to determine what the institution requires in order to arrange for a transfer after death. For some accounts, an individual will only need to fill out a form to transfer the funds on death, but that might not be the case for others.

Social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, have their own rules regarding what happens to an account after death. Many people purchase movies and music online, but those purchases might not be transferable after death. In some cases, an account will be automatically deleted. The user agreements that many people -- including many Massachusetts residents -- never read could shed some light on how a certain account will be dealt with upon death.

Knowing what will be needed ahead of time can help make the process easier for surviving family members. In any event, it would be a good idea to make a comprehensive list of all online accounts (with account numbers, if applicable) that can be easily accessed when it is needed. That list can also contain usernames and passwords, or this information can be kept separate for security reasons. This will at least provide a starting point for loved ones. Until the law catches up with technology, digital asset protection could require some creative estate planning.

Source: fdlreporter.com, "Tips for estate planning and digital assets", Isabell Mueller, Feb. 28, 2016

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