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Estate planning in the digital age

Wills are valuable documents whether the testator intends to pass on a home, important family heirlooms or personal items of great value. While the role that a will plays in passing on physical assets is quite clear, many people in California are less certain about how their digital assets fit in. Because of licensing and terms of service, estate planning must be carefully utilized for digital property.

Much of what people own now exists in a purely electronic form. From music to digital books and electronic copies of movies, assets now exist in the cloud just as much as they do in the real world. However, many of these digital assets are not fully owned by users, and are instead licensed for their personal use. This prevents most people from transferring a digital book from their electronic reader upon their death. In many instances a digital asset will simply disappear even if otherwise outlined in a will.

This can be incredibly disconcerting for most people in California, as a significant amount of money is often spent on accessing these digital goods. Trusts typically cannot solve this problem, either, as a trust created to access electronic products would likely only allow for the trust -- and not an actual person -- to make use of them. One expert believes the best solution is to pass on login information and passwords through wills, or to bequeath the physical item that the digital assets are stored on, such as an e-reader or smart phone.

Estate planning for digital assets is still relatively new. This does not mean it is not as important or pressing as other aspects of an estate. Indeed, as digital assets can be relatively confusing for consumers to handle, it is important to address how they should be handled as early on in the process as possible.

Source: nj.com, "Bamboozled: Who gets your digital stuff when you die?", Karin Price Mueller, Sept. 28, 2017

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