Because it has happened gradually, you may not have realized how much the world has changed. If you are in your forties, you likely have memories of typewriters, word processors, and receiving copies of AOL CDs in the mail. Technological growth happens exponentially, and it develops quickly. We live in a world where we are tied to our iPhones, MacBooks, and iPads (our apologies if you're not an Apple person!)The purpose behind discussing this is that our digital assets require unique estate planning considerations. Digital assets are anything that can be stored digitally, and you likely have significantly more of them than you realize. Think about your purchased music, email accounts, private information, and uploaded photos.
Develop a Plan for Incapacity
You may be quick to dismiss digital assets because you may not be overly concerned with what happens to your iTunes accounts or your Instagram profile (even though you should be). Planning for your digital assets has many broad implications. At Hamilton Law, we are very open about how our founding partners are married. For the sake of the example, think of two other attorneys who are married and run a law firm. If one becomes incapacitated, what happens when their clients need something? The other partner may not even be able to open their laptop because it's password protected.
Then We Just Call Apple…
It isn't that simple. We had a client come in because her husband passed away. During his lifetime, he was a music producer. All his music was stored on his laptop, but she couldn't access it. Listening to his music and hearing his passion for his work was a way of staying connected. Despite how the husband had passed away, Apple required us to get a court order to access his digital asset. In this case, Apple is simply protecting itself because they are placing the decision in someone else's capable hands: a judge. They have no way of knowing if the husband ever wanted his spouse to access the assets that he had password protected.
As sad as this situation is, it is important to bring it up because it was avoidable. When you meet with an estate planning attorney, come with a list of your digital assets. If you aren't sure if you have any, look up “common digital assets,” and you will learn quickly that many of them apply to you. Once you know what you want to protect, our attorneys can ensure that your loved ones can access your property—and it is important to remember that you own these things. Our job is to make it accessible to the people you choose so you are prepared for incapacity or an untimely passing.
Here's a Tip You Can Use Right Away
We're betting your phone is close by. Although we never advocate any estate planning shortcuts, we will point out that you can do something right now to ensure someone can access your phone if you are incapacitated. Your phone allows you to enter a legacy contact. If you designate your spouse as your legacy contact, they simply have to call the company who made the phone, e.g., Apple or Samsung, and probe that you are that contact.
To continue this conversation with an estate planning attorney, contact Hamilton Law, PLC, to schedule your free consultation.