In the Internet age, estate planning isn’t just about making a will or setting up a trust. You probably have digital assets stored only in the cloud that are part of your estate. After you pass away, executors or family members will need to access those assets to distribute them to heirs.
How Can Heirs Gain Access to Digital Assets?
Digital assets come in many forms these days. You might own the following:
- Online bank accounts with banks that have no brick-and-mortar branches
- Retirement accounts through online brokerages
- Websites, forums, or online accounts with monetary value
- Publications and intellectual property stored only online
- Bitcoin or other alternative currencies
These assets have value and should be distributed to your heirs after your death. But gaining access to and transferring ownership of the assets could be a headache.
In Illinois, executors can use the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act to access electronic records on behalf of a deceased person. However, the person must have specifically stated in a will, power of attorney, or other estate planning document that the executor could access these accounts. Or the person needed to fill out a form on each company’s website to allow another person access.
Further, you should place a list of your accounts, usernames, and passwords in a place accessible by your executor or family members. This might be in your safe deposit box or with the lawyer who has a copy of your will.
Distributing Digital Assets
States have begun passing a variety of laws beyond the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act to govern distribution of digital assets. For example, laws may govern how to determine the value of a particular asset (often the fair market value on the owner’s date of death). These laws help the executor properly gather and distribute all digital assets as part of the probate process.
To change accountholders on online digital asset accounts, the executor might need to spend hours on the phone contacting online companies or jump through hoops such as filling out forms. The heirs even may need to invoke intellectual property laws to gain ownership of digital assets. In short, distributing digital assets can be complicated and time-consuming.
Want to start planning your estate? Local attorney Andrew Szocka, Esq. provides thorough and speedy estate planning help in the Chicagoland area. To schedule a free initial consultation, visit the Law Office of Andrew Szocka, P.C. online or call the office at (815) 455-8430.