Articles from Pacific Northwest Law Group

How to Protect Your Digital Assets
Dec 24, 2015

            How many password-protected accounts do you access each day?  Who else has access to these accounts?  What would happen if you died, and were unable to provide these passwords to your loved ones?  When someone dies, grieving friends and family are often surprised to discover how difficult it is to access the deceased’s digital accounts.  Unfortunately, by that point the deceased is not there to provide passwords.  Loved ones are therefore often unable to access the accounts to obtain family photos or videos, to notify others of the deceased’s passing, or to review information to understand and/or access financial information of the deceased.  Online sites have their own terms of service that state how the accounts will be handled after the account holder has died.  Unfortunately, this means that the bereaved family is often going through multiple processes, taking various lengths of time and energy, to access these accounts.       

           Some proposed legislation has been drafted to provide access to digital assets.  The Uniform Law Commission drafted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which, if adopted, would make it possible for a decedent’s personal representative, and others with fiduciary duties to the decedent’s estate, to access all digital media accounts of the decedent without being subject to the various sites’ terms of use (except under limited circumstances).  This means loved ones would be able to settle final debts, close or create memorials out of Facebook pages, obtain family photos, and watch financial accounts for signs of identity theft.

           This legislation has not been adopted in Washington.  This means that people must plan for their digital legacy on their own, or with the help of an estate planning attorney.  At PNWLG, we include planning for your digital and IP assets as part of our estate planning package.  We believe that your digital assets should be protected just as your non-digital assets should. Our planning for digital assets and files can help your executor and family members identify and access your digital accounts after your death. 

           Identification of digital assets can be just as important as the provision of requisite passwords.  Without proper planning, some digital assets may never be identified at all.  This means that your loved ones will never receive the benefit of these assets.  Our estate planning questionnaire asks the right questions to help you (and your loved ones) identify your digital assets.  This planning makes things easier on an executor and family members. 

           As part of our estate planning process, we advise a proper way store passwords to digital assets.  Wills and Trusts have typically failed to serve as places to protect digital information. While these legal forms may be standard estate planning documents, due to privacy issues, it may be wise to create a separate document for all digital asset and access information.  All passwords, account numbers, security information, and location of any digital record of value should be listed in detail.  PNWLG can help you decide where and how to securely store your account information.   

         Pacific Northwest Law Group is prepared to assist you with all your estate planning needs.  Your digital assets can be just as valuable as your non-digital assets, and should be carefully protected. Contact us today. 

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Pacific Northwest Law Group
16141 Cleveland Street,
Suite C109
Redmond, WA 98052

Phone: (425)867-0512
Fax: (425)883-4616