Chipman Mazzucco Emerson LLC

Digital assets increasingly important in estate planning

Many Connecticut residents possess digital assets that could cause complications upon their deaths if not addressed in an estate plan. Email accounts could contain information and photographs of interest and emotional importance to heirs, and the executors of estates increasingly find that utility bills and banking are tied to online accounts. Access to these accounts is generally necessary to manage the financial affairs of an estate.

The laws on the books, however, are designed for the coordination and transfer of paper documents and physical property. An associate professor of law said that courts continue to develop approaches for handling digital assets, which remain largely controlled by technology companies that claim ownership of information within digital accounts. Even clearly written directions on providing access to an heir or executor might not override a company's terms of service. For example, Yahoo forbids access and terminates the accounts of dead people.

Even so, people should still prepare clear instructions for providing access to digital accounts and assets. Although they should put their wishes in writing, the law professor cautioned against listing user names and passwords in a will because that document will become public. A person should inform an heir of the location of password information. Because laws have yet to catch up with technology, people should investigate the terms of service for digital accounts to see if service providers have created ways for transferring assets.

Wills are only just one estate planning tool. An attorney will often recommend the preparation of health care and financial powers of attorney in the event that the client becomes incapacitated and unable to make certain decisions.

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