We’re all accumulating digital assets at a frightening pace, yet we often don’t take into account what happens to them after we die. State and federal laws have not kept pace with technology. In fact, to date, only five states have laws in place regarding the legal status of digital assets when someone dies — and Michigan isn’t one of them.
Consider just a small sample of potential digital assets, including online banking, PayPal accounts, credit card accounts, travel reward programs, online music, movies and books, Facebook and other social media accounts, eBay and other virtual stores, digital photographs, and e-mail accounts. Most of us simply don’t give any thought to what happens to them when we die.
People should consider making a thorough inventory of all online accounts and assessing their value, either real or sentimental. Consider what you want to have happen with those accounts if you are incapacitated or die. Then, spell out those wishes in your will or planning documents.
While the law provides some guidance in this area, there’s still a lot of gray area. The Stored Communications Act, for instance, offers some guidance on what information online service providers can give to third parties, but the law is still evolving and many things are simply unclear.
Frank Henke is a partner at Warner Norcross & Judd and chairs the firm’s Trust and Estate Administration subcommittee. He practices in the firm’s Macomb County office.