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Getting at online assets can be tricky after the decedent passes

Some people in Florida have no Internet presence besides an email address. Others have fully bought into the digital age, and do a great deal of business online. They may also store important documents online, for the sake of convenience.

This may make you wonder if probate laws have caught up to the existence of online property, some of which can be highly valuable. When a person dies, how can his or her heirs and/or beneficiaries inherit these things?

This field is still relatively new, and interpreting probate law when it comes to online assets can be uncertain. The Wall Street Journal provides an example of the complications of distributing a testator’s online property.

The article describes a financial planner’s work with a client who was seeking estate planning assistance. The client owned a PayPal account worth nearly $30,000, and iTunes account worth almost $2,000, and an eBay account. He had also uploaded estate, financial and tax documents to a cloud storage device that will likely be needed once he passes away.

One complication is the service agreements the client had with those digital services. Their agreements do not allow a fiduciary to access to a client’s accounts after the client dies. And leaving the accounts open could leave them vulnerable to getting hacked.

With the help of an estate attorney, the adviser came up with a plan that would work with the service agreements to which the client was bound. They amended the client’s revocable trust to certify that the trustee would have a range of powers over the testator’s digital assets. On top of being able to distribute the testator’s online assets, this clause will hopefully allow the trustee to shut down the testator’s online presence.

New technologies and ways of investing money will almost always have implications for your estate plan. It may make sense to review your plan periodically, to see if anything needs to be amended or updated.

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