Digital Assets

Am I Too Young to Start Thinking About Estate Planning?

Many people believe they’re too young to begin thinking about estate planning. Others say they don’t have significant enough assets to make the process of planning worthwhile.

However, the truth is that everyone needs estate planning. If you have any assets, and you intend to give those assets to a loved one, you need to have a plan.

Forbes’s article, “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist,” examines some important topics in estate planning.

The first of topic is a durable power of attorney for property, finances and health care. This document allows you to designate a trusted individual to make decisions and take action on your behalf with matters relating to each of the three areas above.

In addition to the importance of having all powers of attorney readily available, in case you become incapable of making decisions, beneficiary designations should also be looked at frequently to update any changes to family situations, like a birth or adoption, death, marriage or divorce.

Another topic to address is a living trust. A trust will give direction regarding where and how the assets are dispersed when you die. A great reason to use a living trust is that the assets in a trust do not pass through probate court, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Another area is digital assets. It’s critical for your heirs to have access to digital files, passwords, and documents. Digital assets can be easy to overlook. Create a list of your digital assets, including social media accounts, online banking accounts and home utilities you manage online. Include all email and communications accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you manage. This list should be clear and updated for your heirs to access.

If we fail to plan for these somewhat uncomfortable topics, the outcome will be stressful and expensive for our heirs. Our experienced estate planning attorneys can answer any questions you have and assist you with making sure your estate planning goals are met with positive outcomes.


Reference: Forbes (January 4, 2019) “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist”

Estate Planning Review for 2019

Your estate plan has a big impact on your finances and should be considered as important as your investment portfolio, says Wealth Management in the recent article “Eight Simple Estate Planning Review Items for 2019.”

Here are the eight items that need your attention:

Beneficiary designations. When was the last time you checked these? Beneficiary designations are usually looked at when an account is opened, and often that’s the last time people see them. Look at beneficiary designations for tangible assets, like homes, cars or collectibles. Check legal documents, including bank accounts and insurance policies.

Digital asset designations. This is a relatively new area, but very important. Even if you don’t own any cryptocurrency, chances are good you have assets like photos, reward points, websites and more. Each social media platform has a different policy for how accounts are treated on the death of the owner. You’ll need an inventory and may want to use an online service for managing your digital assets after you die.

Trust funding. This is where many estate plans fall apart. Funding trusts often requires changing titles on bank accounts, homes, and other assets into the name of the trust. Major purchases, like a boat or second home, also need to have their titling corrected, so they correspond to trusts.

Documents for adult children. When your children turn 18, they are legally adults and you do not have the legal right to get information or make decisions on their behalf. If you don’t have HIPAA releases, Power of Attorney, and other documents, you may find yourself unable to help in an emergency.

Keep up with life changes. Review your estate plan with an eye to changes in your life: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, big purchases, etc. If you haven’t met with your estate planning attorney or had a phone conversation in a few years, make an appointment now for a review.

Secure photos and memories. How many times have we watched dramatic images of fires, floods, and earthquakes in 2018? Videos, photos, family heirlooms, and artifacts and other irreplaceable items should be stored in some digital format, or in the cloud. If the family includes artists, take photos of paintings or sculptures so at least you have an image of the item should it be destroyed.

Discuss wishes with loved ones. One of the biggest challenges after someone passes is knowing what they wanted to be done with personal possessions. If you have every Beatles album, unopened, what do you want to happen to your collection? Make inventories and then tell your family what you’d like to have happen with your possessions. You can create a “Legacy Letter” and put it down on paper. It’s not legally binding, but it will give your family some direction.

Prepare for incapacity. This is not everyone’s favorite task, but necessary. If you were conscious but not able to speak, what information would your family need? Work with our estate planning attorneys to create the necessary legal documents, including medical directives, and tell your family members where they are located. Some families keep certain documents (like a Do Not Resuscitate or lists of medications) on the refrigerator so that Emergency Responders can gain access to important medical information quickly in an emergency.

Yes, it’s a good-sized list of to-dos’, and you won’t get it all done in January. However, start your estate planning review in January 2019, so you and your loved ones enjoy the protection you need.


Reference: Wealth Management (Dec. 12, 2018) “Eight Simple Estate Planning Review Items for 2019”

How Do I Avoid the Three Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes?

The Street lists the “3 Worst Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.” These are issues that frequently mess up an estate plan:

Lack of Information. Unwinding the various pieces of your estate can be a monumental task. Some folks leave this all to chance. They fail to leave their executor and loved ones with a complete and updated list of where everything is located and how to get to it.

Think for a minute about all the assets you’ve accumulated in a lifetime: this will include your brokerage accounts, bank accounts, mutual fund holdings, IRAs, pensions and others. They’re hopefully all protected by a host of user names and passwords and maybe even by the answers to questions, like the hospital of your birth and your first pet’s name.

While things like insurance policies are likely online, some of your holdings are not available electronically. In addition, other possessions are totally digital, and you should guard against cyber-theft and hacking. Create a list of all your user names and passwords for investment accounts and other financial holdings.

Beneficiary Designations Issues. It’s not uncommon for people to forget that they’re required to name beneficiaries for their retirement accounts, annuity contracts and insurance policies. Messing this up is a guarantee that your assets will wind up in probate. It can be an expensive and time-consuming legal process, where your wishes may be disregarded.

Outdated Plans. Sometimes, decades pass after estate documents are executed and put away. In the meantime, divorces and other life events happen, radically impacting the original estate planning objectives. In addition, changes in tax laws might impact your initial intentions. It’s smart to periodically review what is in your will and your beneficiary designations.

Are you concerned about mistakes in your current estate plan? Our estate planning attorneys can help you achieve your desired outcomes.


Reference: The Street (November 29, 2018) “3 Worst Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them”

Digital Estate: Is Your Junk Drawer Better Organized?

If your digital assets are not organized and your digital estate is not properly cared for, it can lead to problems for your heirs, including an opportunity for hackers to try to get at whatever assets they can, reports the White Mountain Independent in the article titled “Is your ‘digital estate’ in order?”

Think about how many of your personal accounts are online:

  • Financial accounts: banking, brokerage, bill-paying utilities;
  • Virtual property: credit card points, frequent flyer miles, cryptocurrency;
  • Business accounts: eBay, Amazon, Etsy; stock photo accounts;
  • Email accounts: Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo;
  • Social network: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram; and
  • Online digital storage: Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud.

Those are many assets to protect. Where do you start?

First, create an inventory. Use the categories above or create your own. However, you should make it organized.

Document your wishes for how you want your digital assets to be managed. If you don’t specify this, you may be leaving a wide-open arena for long legal battles. Your heirs and beneficiaries may never gain access to them. Hackers might go after your digital estate and use your identity. Your heirs may also have to engage in an expensive and protracted battle with a social media giant with costs eating into their inheritance.

Name a digital executor in your will. This is a relatively new area, but you can name a person to be your digital executor. Not all states recognize this position, so you’ll want to speak with our estate planning attorneys to find out what the laws are in your state.

You will also need to go through all of your online accounts and learn what each platform requires, in the instance of the account owner’s death.

Review your plans, especially as you add new digital assets.

Managing digital assets can be as difficult as managing tangible assets. The laws are still evolving, so speak with our estate planning attorneys to make sure that your estate is prepared, and your heirs will not face a digital nightmare after you have passed away.


Reference: White Mountain Independent (Oct. 26, 2018) “Is your ‘digital estate’ in order?

Digital Assets? Bring Your Estate Plan into Today’s Digital World

Life, as well as estate planning, used to be much more one-dimensional. Now that our lives are lived “In Real Life” (IRL) and online, estate plans need to include both aspects of our lives, according to this recent article from North Bay Business Journal titled “Your digital life likely will outlive you, so here’s how to bring your estate plan into the modern age.” You could decide not to deal with it, but then you are leaving a mess in digital assets behind for your loved ones to untangle.

Here are a few of your digital assets to consider: bank accounts, email accounts, Facebook page, Linked In profile, online photo albums, blogs and websites. They’re likely to be around long after you are gone.

This is still a relatively new area of estate planning. What often happens is that heirs think they can simply find and use the decedent’s user name and passwords to access their accounts. However, what they learn is that they are legally not permitted to do so. There are state and federal laws, online platform user agreements and a host of barriers to retrieve online assets.

A new law was passed in 2017 in California that attempted to bring order to this chaos back in 2017. The Revised Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act allows executors and trustees to obtain disclosure of a person’s digital assets, after the original owner dies but only under certain conditions.

In the recent past, federal and state laws have made it hard for executors and trustees to gain access to these assets without a court order.

Just being the executor or trustee does not automatically give you the right to access assets. There has to be evidence that the decedent consented to disclosure and a court order may be necessary to prove the consent was correct.

The new law mainly gave social media platforms and privacy advocates what they wanted: a requirement of prior consent before disclosure.  However, the end result is that it is easier to gain access to digital assets, if executors and trustees can show that the decedent did consent to disclosure.

However, it’s still not that simple. Here are a few steps to help your loved ones deal with your digital assets:

Inventory every digital asset that you have. Create a list of log-in and password information, plus any “secret questions/answers.”

Tell your trusted family member or friend where that list is. Store it with your other estate planning documents, possibly in your attorney’s vault.

Ask your estate planning attorney how they handle digital assets. Your lawyer will know what steps are necessary in your state to ensure that someone will have legal access to your digital assets after you pass away.

Do not include your digital asset inventory, as part of your will. If your estate goes through probate, all of your account information will become part of the public record.

Many wills don’t include provisions about digital assets. If this is the case with your will, contact your estate planning attorney now to make sure your online life is as protected as your “In Real Life” life.


Reference: North Bay Business Journal (Oct. 19, 2018) “Your digital life likely will outlive you, so here’s how to bring your estate plan into the modern age”

Digital Assets: The Key Documents Every Estate Plan Must Have

“Even the most carefully constructed estate plan often overlooks a client’s digital assets. A plan is essential, as both state and federal laws can create roadblocks to accessing digital assets.”

The value of a thoughtfully designed estate plan that provides for the eventual distribution of a person’s assets is generally understood by most people, even those who put off putting one into place. However, according to this important article from Think Advisor, titled “The Big Hole in Estate Plans: Digital Assets,” many plans overlook digital assets. …

The Time to Plan is Now and Not Later

“The client wanted her surviving spouse to have access to her work email, but her employer shut down the email account following her death.”

This is one of those situations that does not have a happy ending. A woman died unexpectedly, and her employer shut down her email immediately after her death. Her surviving spouse knew that the woman had wanted him to have access to her emails, but it was too late. …

Settling Digital Estates: Are They Addressed in Your Estate Plan?

“As our lives become more and more connected online, we increasingly need to also consider what to do with the digital estate, the online accounts of our dearly departed, many of which hold photos and personal memories, as well as sensitive financial information.”

Settling the estate of a loved family member or dear friend is a challenging and emotionally wearing process, reports The-Parallax in the article “How to settle your loved one’s digital estate.” If an estate plan is in place, some things are easier. However, even then, there are possessions to sort through, assets to distribute and many tasks that need to be done. Now, add digital assets to that list. …

Digital Assets: Life and Death Have Both Gotten More Complicated

digital assetsEstate planning must now include intangible assets that didn’t exist just a few years ago, as well as those that have been around since people started owning private property. Today, says Forbes in the article “Estate Planning for Crypto And Other Digital Assets: What You Need to Know,” there are new kinds of property and new laws that govern them.

Some of the old rules still apply and you need a trust or a will. One of the things in that trust or will, needs to be naming a trustee or executor who will be in charge of ensuring that your assets are distributed, according to the wishes you state in your trust or will. When it comes to digital assets, things get a little tricky. …

Digital Assets: Another Reason to Update Your Will or Trust

Ensuring that your property is appropriately managed and disbursed upon your incapacity or death, is no longer limited to physical or financial property. Your estate plan now needs to include digital assets, the online accounts that are in your name, says the Journal of Financial Planning in the article “Don’t Forget Digital Assets in Estate Planning.”

If your will or trust hasn’t been updated in the past few years, chances are good it has no provision for your digital assets. This could create a larger problem than you’d think. Bank accounts, investment accounts and small business records stored in the cloud may not be accessible to heirs. That doesn’t even include sentimental items: treasured photos and videos that never made it to paper or your computer’s hard drive. …

Scroll to Top