From online banking and social media accounts to email and cloud storage, we accumulate a significant amount of digital assets throughout our lifetime. These digital assets can pose unique challenges when it comes to estate planning and probate in Maryland. In this post, we’ll explore the importance of planning for digital assets in Maryland probate and provide insights for both individuals and estate administrators.
The Significance of Digital Assets
Digital assets encompass a wide range of online and electronic property, including:
- Financial Accounts
- Online bank accounts
- Investment portfolios
- Cryptocurrency holdings
- Social Media Profiles
- LinkedIn, and more
- Email and Communication
- Email accounts (Gmail, Outlook, etc.)
- Messaging apps (WhatsApp, Messenger, etc.)
- Cloud Storage
- Documents and files stored in the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.)
- Digital Media
- Music and video libraries
- E-books and digital subscriptions
These digital assets hold both sentimental and financial value, making it essential to include them in your estate planning efforts.
The Challenges of Digital Asset Management in Probate
Managing digital assets during the probate process can be complex for several reasons:
- Access and Authentication: Password protection and authentication measures can make it difficult for estate administrators to access digital accounts.
- Legal and Privacy Issues: State and federal laws, as well as platform-specific terms of service, may dictate who can access and inherit digital assets.
- Asset Valuation: Determining the value of digital assets can be challenging, especially for cryptocurrencies and digital intellectual property.
- Ongoing Digital Presence: Social media profiles and email accounts may continue to receive messages and notifications, which can be emotionally challenging for loved ones.
- Digital Estate Plan Awareness: Ensuring that your loved ones are aware of your digital estate plan and know how to execute it can be a challenge.
- Evolving Technology: As technology evolves, new digital assets and platforms may emerge, requiring continuous updates to your estate plan.
- Cybersecurity Risks: Protecting assets from cybersecurity threats and unauthorized access is an ongoing concern.
- Changing Passwords: Frequent password changes and security updates can create difficulties in maintaining access to digital accounts.
Steps for Planning Your Digital Estate
To ensure a smooth Maryland probate process, it’s crucial to proactively address your digital assets in your estate planning. Here are steps you can take:
Create an Inventory
Creating an inventory of your digital assets is a crucial first step in managing your digital estate. This inventory should include a comprehensive list of all your digital accounts, such as:
- Online bank accounts
- Social media profiles
- Email accounts
- Cloud storage services
Appoint a Digital Executor
Selecting the right person to serve as your digital executor is critical. This individual should possess a good understanding of technology and be someone you trust implicitly to carry out your wishes. The digital executor will play a vital role in accessing and managing your digital assets according to your instructions.
Document Your Wishes
Clearly articulating your wishes for the management of your digital assets is fundamental to effective digital estate planning. In your will or estate plan, be explicit about how you want each digital asset to be handled. This may involve specifying whether you want certain accounts to be closed, preserved, or transferred to specific individuals or beneficiaries.
Review Platform Policies
Understanding the terms of service and policies of the digital platforms you use is essential when planning for your digital assets. Some online platforms offer options for managing digital assets after your passing, and being aware of these features can be valuable.
Use a Password Manager
Consider utilizing a password manager to enhance the security and accessibility of your digital assets. A password manager securely stores your login information and generates strong, unique passwords for your accounts. This tool simplifies the process of sharing access credentials with your digital executor while maintaining the security of your accounts.
Maryland’s Approach to Digital Assets
The Maryland Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (MFADAA), signed into law in 2016, marked a significant advancement for the state in adapting to the digital age. Before this legislation, fiduciaries faced challenges in accessing an individual’s digital assets, such as electronic banking and social media accounts, due to the absence of paper statements and restrictive terms of service agreements by service providers. This led to time-consuming searches and limited access to crucial information for personal representatives, attorneys-in-fact, and guardians. However, with the MFADAA, individuals can now grant or prohibit fiduciaries, including attorneys-in-fact, trustees, personal representatives, or guardians, access to their digital assets. These digital assets include electronic communications, cataloged messages, and other electronic records.
Seek Legal Guidance
Given the intricate nature of digital asset management in probate, it’s advisable to seek legal guidance from experienced Maryland probate attorneys. An attorney can assist you in:
- Drafting or updating your estate plan to include digital assets.
- Ensuring compliance with Maryland laws and platform-specific policies.
- Appointing a digital executor and providing them with the necessary legal authority.
- Resolving any legal challenges or disputes related to digital assets.
Contact Blackford & Flohr for Expert Maryland Probate Services
At Blackford & Flohr, we understand the evolving landscape of estate planning, including the complexities of digital asset management. Our team of experienced Maryland probate attorneys is here to provide you with the guidance and support you need to plan for your digital assets effectively.
Don’t leave your digital legacy to chance. Contact us today for a consultation and discover how we can assist you in safeguarding your digital assets and ensuring a seamless probate process in Maryland.