In modern times, some of the most valuable assets you may have, whether in terms of sentimental or monetary value, may be digital assets. What was once kept in a photo album is now kept on Facebook. Letters that once were preserved in a shoebox are now saved as emails. Business documents which once were in a filing cabinet may now be in Dropbox. Account statements which may have once come in the mail now are only in email form. Unfortunately, traditional estate planning doesn’t handle these assets very well.
In New Jersey, there is no specific law on the books which allows a party to access these digital assets when you are unable to. This means you need to take proactive steps to ensure your loved ones can access these assets without hassle. I would suggest the following steps:
- Take an inventory. Unlike traditional assets, your loved ones won’t know whether these assets even exist if you don’t keep an inventory they can access. In the most extreme example, if you get your statements paperlessly, will your children know which brokerage holds your retirement assets if they don’t have access to your email? Probably not. Whether sentimental or financial, keep a list of all of these assets and make sure your loved ones can access that list.
- Make a password list. Life will be way easier for your loved ones if they have your usernames and passwords. If you don’t want them to have access while you’re alive and competent, put this info in a sealed envelope so you’ll know if anyone has accessed it.
- Give authority to access to assets. Have language in your will specifically authorizing your executor to access your digital assets when you’re gone. [Alternatively, you can appoint someone other than your executor to have this access.] Make sure your power of attorney document specifically authorizes access to digital assets so that your agent can access them if you’re alive and incapacitated.