Digital Property

by Dan Steiger, Esq

What is digital property? The list encompasses your email account, social media account, everything in your smart phone and tablet, all shopping done on-line, blogs and of course everything on the cloud. That’s just for starters. Additionally, digital property covers all your passwords such as the ones to get into your bank account, PayPal, Amazon, Nordstrom, Macy’s, etc. Digital property also includes the passwords to get into your Cleveland Clinic My Chart, and similar websites for UH and Metro. Whew! What are your heirs to do? To quote Wayne C. Buckwalter in Protecting Your Digital Property for Future Generations , “Welcome to the world of estate planning for digital assets.”

When loved ones have passed away, family members find themselves in the situation where they want copies of letters that their deceased relatives have received, or copies of photos that are stored in their phones. In the past, these treasures could be found in old shoe boxes high up on a closet shelf. But, this is the twenty-first century and the age of digital property. These treasures are in phones, on computers and in tablets. It would be a good idea to add a digital estate plan to your will. That way, your family will be able to find all your on-line accounts. Then, they will be able to access the information on all your accounts, as well as determining their financial value, if any.

Using password programs such as Dashlane or LastPass makes it easy to access your digital life. The username and password for these programs should be shared with your attorney or trusted advisor with instructions not to pass on the information until after your death. Alternatively, you could keep your usernames and passwords on a document that you store on a flash drive.  Make sure that your online executor knows where to find this list.

Ohio has adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, (RUFADAA. It essentially recognizes the need of heirs to access their deceased loved one’s digital assets, and establishes specific guidelines for the procedure. There are many more details and specifics in this law.