By Cynthia J. Jackson, Esq.
How many of us have photographs and other memorabilia saved to some type of digital account? How many have banking, securities, business, and other financial records saved digitally? How many have domain names, blogs, games, or similar assets that exist only in the digital world but have real-world value?
Finally, how many of us have provided for access and control of that information to the person(s) who will be handling our affairs in case of disability or death?
Some assets do not have monetary value, such as pictures that might be stored in “albums” on a computer, but even those have sentimental value to family members. It’s important to think about ways to make sure that your family knows that such albums exist and to ensure in your documents that those pictures are preserved for the benefit of any family member who wants copies.
Many families’ financial transactions are all handled online, so it’s critical to be sure that someone knows that such accounts exist if there are no paper statements. In addition, a designated representative must be able to access the passwords, as most companies are governed by privacy laws and it is often difficult to obtain digital information, even for designated representatives.
These considerations become even more important for those who own domain names and author blogs. Computer gamers might even have assets that have value.
Encryption is important to prevent unauthorized use of electronic information, but also poses an obstacle to your representative if he/she needs to gain access. Other obstacles exist in the form of Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, to name two relevant privacy acts. The same laws that aim to avoid fraud and invasion of privacy can make access difficult for a legitimate representative.
If any of these considerations apply to you, make sure that you have (a) made the relevant information accessible somewhere, even if by an “old school” sealed envelope, (b) provided for access and copies of any sentimental family digital assets, (c) made provision in your power of attorney in case of incapacity and in your will or trust in case of death for access and control of all such digital and electronic content.