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Estate plans need to give specific guidance about digital assets

The online lives of people in South Carolina often create digital assets. An estate plan that does not describe how to access digital assets might leave the executor of an estate and heirs permanently disconnected from the digital estate.

Digital assets take many forms, including photos and other files stored in cloud accounts, social media accounts, email accounts and online financial accounts. The first step in organizing a digital estate requires taking a complete inventory. People need to write down all online accounts along with user IDs, passwords and other authentication steps. The inventory should also address automated payments. Without knowledge of automated transactions, the executor of an estate or surviving family members might have trouble tracking down the sources of account debits. After identifying all digital assets and liabilities, people can then decide who should have access to them.

A will can specifically grant the executor access to online accounts. This is especially important for bank and investment accounts so that an executor can continue to pay an estate's bills and eventually distribute assets to heirs. An executor who does not have the information necessary to access online accounts will likely encounter great difficulty and delay when trying to gain access after someone's death.

An estate planning attorney might guide a person through the issues that come up while drafting an estate plan. An attorney might describe how state laws apply to digital assets or research if an online service provider allows an account holder to designate a beneficiary. While writing the person's will, an attorney might offer advice that helps the person select an executor capable of managing final affairs. This process might also include developing powers of attorney that name agents who can attend to financial or medical issues in case the person becomes incapacitated.

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