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What happens to digital assets upon death?

Nearly every Massachusetts resident has some sort of online account whether personal, financial or professional. Many people bank online, have social media accounts and keep their digital photos online. As the law attempts to catch up to the digital revolution that seems to be taking place, people need to take steps to ensure that their digital assets are part of their estate plans so they can be dealt with by family members after death.

Without provisions regarding these assets, they could be lost forever. Family members, or at least the executor or personal representative of an individual's estate, need to be made aware that these assets exist and how to access them. If an individual does not want anyone having access to the usernames and passwords of these accounts until after death, they at least need to be referenced in the will. A written inventory of all online accounts, including social media, along with the information needed to access them can be kept with the original will or in another safe place.

The creation of the revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act is designed to help a limited audience, such as personal representatives/executors, gain access to online accounts. However, it has not been adopted in all states. For instance, at last report, a bill is working its way through the Massachusetts legislature to adopt the act.

It might take some additional estate planning in order to ensure that digital assets do not fall through the cracks during probate. Online account providers are not consistent in how they deal with the death of the account holder. Therefore, it would be beneficial to have an attorney involved in the process who can help determine the best way to deal with these assets after death and to plan accordingly.

Source: MarketWatch, "How to include your digital assets in your estate plan", Andrea Coombes, Aug. 17, 2016

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