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Digital assets are increasingly important in estate planning

Careful estate planning is essential for helping to ensure that your wishes are carried out when you die or if you are no longer able to make your own decisions. Of course it is also essential for ensuring that your assets are managed and distributed as you intend. This means not just physical assets but digital ones as well.

While people used to store all of their important information in safe deposit boxes, home safes and file cabinets, more often they are now stored digitally. To ensure that your executors and heirs have access to all of these, first determine exactly what you have. This includes, but is not limited to, bank, retirement and investment accounts, insurance plans and email accounts.

If you're active on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, provide information to access those as well. This might seem trivial, but your postings may provide comfort to your loved ones when you're no longer around, just as shoeboxes filled with letters and photo albums full of cherished memories did for earlier generations. Facebook can memorialize your account or remove it based on the request of a verified family member.

Make sure that you provide usernames, passwords and answers to security questions for all of your online accounts. This will save the person(s) you designate to handle them time and frustration. However, be careful about including that information in a will or any document that may become public. Just provide instructions on where they can be located - such as a safe deposit box - for those you designate to access it. Without this access, one tax and estate planning attorney notes that it can be "practically impossible" for anyone to access your digital property without violating the law.

Experienced California estate planning attorneys can advise clients how to handle their digital property. They can help you protect your privacy while ensuring that those you want to give access to can do so easily. Remember that your death or incapacitation will be a time of grief and stress for your loved ones. Making the job of handling your assets as frustration-free as possible can be one of your last gifts to them.

Source: USA Today, "Estate Planning 101: Don't forget digital assets" Eric McWhinnie, May. 25, 2014

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