ElderLaw News — The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. — MD, VA, DC
ElderLaw News

ElderLaw News is a weekly e-newsletter that brings you reports of legal developments and other trends of vital interest to seniors and their advocates. This newsletter is brought to you by The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., William S. Fralin, Esq., President.

Digital Estate Planning

Many people read articles discussing the importance of protecting and safekeeping passwords, and recognize that if they are not careful, their online accounts and other activities may be compromised, leading to disastrous results. It is possible, however, that you may protect these same passwords so well that in a period of incapacity or upon your death, your agent or executor will not have access to your online accounts.

Digital estate planning is a relatively new concept in traditional estate planning that takes online activity into account when designing your plan. Digital estate planning not only tries to ensure that your agent or executor has access to your online accounts, but it also takes into account the plethora of other electronic assets that the average American now has.

To illustrate the importance of completing digital estate planning, I'll use the example of Scott, a 40 year old single man who, like many people, has a large online presence. Scott does all of his banking online and never receives a bank statement in the mail. He has an investment account at a company that does not have a brick-and-mortar location. Scott pays his bills electronically, without receiving a hardcopy bill, and he pays some of his bills automatically on a monthly basis. He has several e-mail accounts and maintains his own website and blog. Scott buys and sells items online through Amazon and eBay, using his PayPal account to complete the transactions. He has an extensive photo and music collection that he stores online, and he is an active Facebook and Twitter user. Finally, because Scott prefers to not have papers lying around his house, he stores copies of all of his medical, financial, tax, and legal documents on a "cloud" server.

Now imagine that Scott becomes incapacitated or dies. How would Scott's agent or executor begin to handle his affairs? How would this agent or executor have any idea of the true extent of his or her responsibilities? Digital estate planning attempts to prevent these problems from occurring.

One of the first things that digital estate planning involves is taking inventory of your online presence. In addition those mentioned for Scott, other examples of your online presence (also referred to as "digital assets" or "electronic assets") include:

-- Website domain name ownership;

-- Music playlists;

-- Online videos, stored on sites like YouTube; and

-- Online magazine, newspaper, and website subscriptions.

After taking an inventory, the next step is ensuring that your agent or executor is aware of and is able to handle each of the items. You should also consider storing this information on a CD or flash drive that can be kept with your estate planning documents. Your agent or executor will likely need access to your personal computer, tablet, and/or smart phone, so make sure that you provide instructions for how to access these devices.

You may also want to include language in your power of attorney or will that allows your agent or executor to handle your digital assets. It is important to note, though, that each online provider typically has a service agreement that may limit the ability of another individual (such as your agent or executor) to access your online information. Some service agreements may actually state that you do not, in fact, own your electronic assets.

There is not much established law in the field of digital estate planning, but in the coming years, we will surely see this area of law evolve. Although Virginia has not done so, other states have begun to address the issues involved with digital estate planning by passing laws that provide executors with access to digital assets, and authorizing an executor to take control of a deceased individual's online presence. As we all move towards a more digital world, the importance of digital estate planning will only grow.

The lawyers of The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm are available to help you with your traditional estate planning and your digital estate planning. The attorneys at The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm can also assist clients with their estate, financial, insurance, long-term care, veterans' benefits, and special needs planning issues.

Speakers

If you are interested in having an Elder Law attorney from The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. speak at an event, then please call us at:

Maryland (301) 214-2229
Virginia (703) 243-3200
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The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C.

The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. is an elder law firm. We represent older persons, disabled persons, their families, and their advocates. The practice of elder law includes estate planning, estate and trust administration, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, titling of assets and designations of beneficiaries, guardianships, conservatorships, and public entitlements such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and SSI, disability planning, income tax planning and preparation, care management, and fiduciary services. For more information about The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., please visit our website at http://www.chroniccareadvocacy.com.

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This newsletter is not intended as a substitute for legal counsel. While every precaution has been taken to make this newsletter accurate, we assume no responsibility for errors, omissions, or damages resulting from the use of the information in this newsletter. The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. thanks the law firm of Hook Law Center for their input to this newsletter.

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