Good estate planning includes taking into account digital assets

As more and more people conduct the majority of their business online, digital estate planning has become a critical part of having a secure long-term estate plan. Having an effective estate plan that includes one's online digital assets is not just for the tech savvy younger generation of Americans. Many seniors have high-speed broadband connection at home and even more utilize the internet through public computers, such as at the library. Although many seniors eschew the Internet, of those seniors who do join the online world, digital technology becomes an integral part of their daily lives.

Your digital assets may consist of videos, text documents, photos, e-mails and social media accounts. Additionally, digital assets encompass online banking and investment accounts, customer lists, payroll systems, business plans and online "stores."

Due to their financial and sentimental importance in our lives, digital assets need to be considered as a part of any 21st century estate plan. Many individuals leave a significant amount of digital assets unaccounted for after their death. By way of illustration-by the end of 2012-over 30 million Facebook users had died and left no directions as to the handling of their Facebook accounts. Undoubtedly, digital assets add a new wrinkle to estate planning. Moreover, digital assets can be challenging to locate unless the decedent has left guidance on where to look for them.

The vast majority of states-including Iowa and Illinois-currently have no specific statutes pertaining to how to handle digital assets as part of one's estate. However, as noted by the American Bar Association, when digital assets have value one "may dispose of them through a will or transfer ownership to a trust." People with digital assets need to create a list of online accounts as part of their estate plan and empower an executor to deal with those assets by way by proper authorization contained in a will.

Planning suggestions

Since many digital assets are password-protected, it is absolutely crucial that estate planning efforts include steps to ensure that online accounts are actually accessible after a loved one has passed.

There are several suggestions for dealing with your digital assets. First, take an inventory of all online accounts, passwords and security questions and answers. Store the list someplace safe and accessible only by a trusted person. Second, designate a digital executor to handle your estate when you pass. That person can be the same person who is named as executor under your will. Third, leave detailed instructions in your will as to how you want each online account disposed of. If certain online accounts are to be deleted altogether rather than passed to beneficiaries, make sure you expressly so provide in your will.

Seeking legal help

If you have digital assets that you either want passed on to your beneficiaries or deleted when you die, you should contact an attorney experienced in handling estate planning matters. An attorney can craft an estate plan which will carry out your wishes as to the disposition of your digital assets once you pass.