Let’s face it – most of us do everything online: managing our banking, storing our photos, writing the next best-seller, and documenting the next great invention. Yet few of us have read the Terms of Service governing access to those Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Gmail, and other digital media sites. (You know what the Terms of Service are – those pages of small print that you don’t read, quickly scroll through, and then agree to (“click here”), just so you can get to the good stuff.) And access to that information by our families if we become disabled, sick, or die is most assuredly not guaranteed.
Don’t believe me? Consider the family, whose mom bought an iPad to keep her busy during chemo treatments. She left the iPad to her children in her Will, but neglected to give them the access code. The device is now useless (“a shiny silver placemat”), as her children fight with Apple and their hyper-vigilant security team. Or the father, who had to beg Facebook for access to the videos and photos left by his 21-year-old son who had passed away.
Now think about how difficult it would be for someone to pay your bills, transfer funds between your accounts, save your pictures, or publish your future best-seller if they couldn’t access your accounts and/or electronic devices. Fortunately, Maryland has enacted legislation that allows a fiduciary to access your so-called “digital assets.” Although it is relatively new, it’s definitely something you should take advantage of. How? It’s a two-step process. First, make sure your logins, passwords, security codes, and other access information are up-to-date and stored in a safe place. There are lots of options for this, from low-tech (think paper copy, stored someplace safe in your home) to high-tech (online password vaults and services which allow you to store endless passwords.)
Second, make arrangements in your estate planning documents to address your digital assets. A properly-drafted Power of Attorney can authorize a trusted friend or family member (your “fiduciary”) to access your digital passwords and media in the event you become disabled. A properly drafted Will or Revocable Trust agreement can empower your Personal Representative or Trustee to manage your digital footprint after your death. And don’t wait until you have enough “stuff” or assets to get these documents in place; access to a simple iPad, phone, or Facebook video with your memories (much less the award-winning Broadway play you wrote back in college) is a priceless gift to your family members if something happens to you.
Cheryl A. Jones is a Member in the firm’s Wealth Preservation Group. She represents individuals and families, business owners, healthcare facilities, corporate executives, foundations and other non-profit entities in matters relating to estate planning, asset protection, and elder law, including asset transfer strategies. Her practice includes advising LGBT clients on estate and family planning matters, including second parent adoption proceedings.
The scope of Cheryl’s practice includes the preparation of estate planning and trust documents, powers of attorney and health care directives, estate and trust administration, asset protection planning, and certain family law matters, including negotiation and drafting of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, guardianship proceedings, and second parent adoptions. In addition, Cheryl advises families on elder law issues, particularly planning for the costs of long term care and Medical Assistance (“Medicaid”). Cheryl also advises on charitable tax matters such as structuring complex charitable gifts, preparing charitable remainder trusts and charitable lead trusts, and forming and administering non-profits and 501(c)(3) charities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 410-769-6141.