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Estates should not ignore important digital assets

Clearly, estate planning must enter the digital age now that at least 77 percent of all Americans go online daily and handle their personal and financial matters online. An estate plan should now include digital assets and other personal property stored electronically, according to a financial expert.

An executor must have access to digital information or there will be confusion and possible legal actions as an expensive and possibly futile search is made. Usernames and passwords to financial and personal accounts must be shared, along with Facebook and other online accounts. This also applies to other remote locations, such as cloud storage.

A password manager such as LastPass or Sticky Password may keep a record of online accounts and passwords in a digital vault. Accounts may be established in advanced that allow a personal representative to gain access when a person dies or becomes incapacitated.

Arizona has adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act that allows a family member, executor, attorney-in-fact or executor to access digital assets and deal with service-agreement limitations and other access restrictions. Planning must address the use of RUFADAA.

Policies of online providers should also be reviewed and addressed. Each one has different access tools that can impact how access is provided. Instructions in estate planning documents must also match information in the online account provider's access-authorization portal, because providers usually follow directions provided to them, which may not be contained in estate documents.

A person must also decide how digital assets will be handled. Accessible instructions should advise and select executors or family members to close and memorialize social media accounts, such as Facebook.

A list of digital assets may be prepared and stored where a personal representative can gain access. Storing these with e-mail providers, such as Yahoo, may not work because it may be closed and deleted if it is not used for several months. Personal representatives may be unable to copy important emails and other information before the account is shut down.

Language may be included in wills granting executors the authority to access digital assets and accounts. This should also be granted to agents in powers of attorneys and trustees where there are assets in trusts.

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