Legal processes, and estate law in particular, can be rather slow moving in how they evolve to reflect the world in its current state. This is no truer than with the inclusion of new property made available due to recent advances in technology. Estate planning for digital assets is tough because, until the past few decades, such assets didn’t exist.
To give a general definition, digital assets include anything that exists only electronically. This can include the photos you upload to social media to a banking account that only exists online.
How Do You Handle Digital Assets After Death?
Of course, digital assets include things that are very real parts of our lives, even if they only ever existed online. Someone’s Facebook photos may have completely replaced their need for physical albums. Electronic bank records have replaced the need to have hard copies of every document possible. These things are great in reducing our carbon footprint, but what happens to them after one has passed?
When someone passes away, whoever is tasked with handling their estate may face some difficulty due to the presence of digital assets because laws that are currently in place and privacy concerns don’t tend to address data that is intangible. Most laws pertaining to what can be accessed after a person’s death and by whom were put in place far before social media and text messaging were an idea in anyone’s mind.
The Legal Difficulty of Estate Planning for Digital Assets
In years past, when bank accounts were on paper and the quickest form of communication was placing a phone call, whoever was executing the will of a deceased individual generally didn’t have a hard time collecting documents they had legal access to. There were (and still are) laws in place making sure only the right people could access certain assets after death. These laws are still useful, but they often don’t address an executor’s ability to access digital assets.
There are other difficulties in place, too, such as the Stored Communications Act, which prohibits someone the ability to disclose electronic communications who doesn’t own such communications, which was passed on a federal level. This makes it very difficult for the executor of an estate to access the deceased’s online persona post-death.
Thankfully, though the process of putting new laws and policies in place is always a slow one, legislators are working to relieve some of the pressure on estate executors by making it simpler to access digital assets after someone has died.
Contact the Team at Tanko Law
If you have been tasked with carrying out the estate of someone who has passed, we understand that it can be a trying and taxing process. It’s not made easier by the fact that the lines are blurred in terms of being able to access digital assets for someone who has died. Our team has much experience dealing with estate planning for digital assets, and we are happy to help. If you’re located in or around Kalispell, contact Tanko Law, today.