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Immaterial, not insignificant: Digital assets and estate planning

More and more, people are integrating their lives into the digital realm. Traditional print news is becoming a thing of the past, people can conduct banking without ever speaking to a teller and social relationships are built without face-to-face communication -- just to touch on a few examples. Not to mention the fact that blogs, such as this one, are a common means for providing information to a wide audience.

However, even though people are commonly acquiring, maintaining or managing assets and property in this way, the mental connection may not be made with physical assets and property. As such, the estate planning process may unintentionally fail to address a person's digital life.

Of course, some financial observers have noted the growing importance of digital assets and how they fit into estate planning. After all, families may be forced to deal with a person's presence in the digital world without any guidance if preparations aren't made.

A recent article from CNBC points out that identifying critical digital assets and accounts is a helpful step to incorporate intangible property in an estate plan. After all, estate administrators may simply need to know the extent of a person's life in the digital realm in order to take action. Here are some common sources or sites of digital assets:

  • Electronic banking accounts
  • Electronic financial management services
  • Digital transaction services (such as PayPal)
  • Digital photo albums
  • Music collections
  • Social media services
  • Email accounts

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of items to consider when organizing a digital estate, but it's a place to start.

One thing worth noting is that estate planning law in Michigan may not directly address this issue, given that it's a relatively new aspect of daily life. Keeping this in mind, it may be most helpful to work with an attorney who is familiar with relevant state laws and the changing needs of families.

Source: CNBC, "Protect online assets with a digital estate plan," Thomas Henske, May 19, 2014

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