In Part 1 of my last article, Estate Planning and “Virtual Assets,” I discussed the complex issues relating to estate planning and “Virtual Assets,” which include financial accounts, email accounts, social media sites, and other personal or family information. All of these assets are typically accessed over the internet with a username and password. Here are two additional recommendations with respect to Virtual Assets:
1. Consider Who Should Receive Your Virtual Assets. If a virtual asset is a bank or investment account, your will or trust should (presumably) control who will receive these assets at your death. However, what about access to family photos or genealogical information? One might want to specifically instruct your executor or trustee to replicate and distribute these items so that they pass to multiple intended beneficiaries.
2. Use Caution in Using Commercial Services to Hold Your Virtual Assets. A new cottage industry has sprung up to provide a type of “online safe deposit box” to store your virtual assets and provide a means by which designated individuals can gain access to your virtual assets. A few words of caution are in order. First, be careful and make sure you’re dealing with a reputable company. Giving someone the keys to your digital existence would be a goldmine for someone bent on stealing your identity. Second, remember that giving someone access to information about an asset is not the same as giving that asset to that individual. Your will or trust should ultimately control who should inherit your assets, not an online service provider. There may be complex legal and tax issues that need to be taken into account in designating beneficiaries of virtual assets. For example, one online service provider refers to an “electronic will.” In most states, a will requires certain formalities (typically a written instrument signed before two witnesses), and the absence of these formalities can render one’s good intentions legally invalid.