Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Lake Forest economist Mike Moebs was planning for a marriage last year, and his lawyer asked him for a complete list of his assets. In his initial list, he completely left off a substantial amount of frequent flyer miles. Once he started thinking in terms of digital assets as well, he has now created an inventory of user names, passwords, and answers to security questions for over 50 accounts.
A recent BMO Retirement Institute survey indicates that over half of respondents aged 45+ believe it is important to plan for their digital property. However, 57% of those respondents have not made such provisions. The fact is, people just do not think of digital assets in the same way they think of tangible assets. In our increasingly paperless world, they need to be.
Several states have passed laws that address various digital concerns, but there is no uniformity amongst those laws. Even if a person gives a power of attorney to an agent to access their digital assets, problems could still arise. A bank, social media site, or e-mail service may not accept that authority. In that case, a court-appointed guardian may be required to get access to the records.
Cyberspace assets that people should probably consider when estate planning include: online bank and investment accounts, online bill pay accounts, online store accounts, email, loyalty programs, social media accounts, entertainment accounts, personal or work websites, spreadsheets, and address books or calendars. If people want to make formal estate plans for online assets and accounts, trusts are preferable to wills.
See Becky Yerak, Online Accounts After Death: Remember Digital Property When Listing Assets, Chicago Tribune, Aug. 26, 2012.