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Philip Ruce of Stone Arch Law Office Returns to KSTP to Speak About Digital Asset Planning

Digital Asset Planning

We live in a digital world, with online platforms being preferred by people over traditional pen and paper. Every piece of information can be stored and accessed through the Internet — and this does not exempt a person’s assets. Online wallets, email records, social media, etc. are becoming more and more utilized, which poses a challenge to estate planning.

Attorney Philip Ruce of Stone Arch Law Office spoke with KSTP to talk about digital estate planning and share professional tips on how to plan digital assets so they are safe, accessible, and included in the management and division of an estate. 

Key Discussion Points 

The Challenge in Digital Assets

A single person can have a lot of different accounts online, from their social media to their online banking profiles. Autopay accounts, online wallets, and cryptocurrency have also been developed, which contain assets with actual value. All of these are protected by passwords, with some even going as far as having data encryption. 

Only the account holder has access to these accounts and the information or assets that they hold. And that is precisely how it becomes a problem in estate planning. Upon the account holder’s death, their loved ones will not be able to access these online accounts on their behalf. There can also be criminal issues involved in doing so because they don’t have the rights to these digital platforms. 

How to Plan Digital Assets 

Digital assets and accounts are just as important as physical property such as a house or car, for example. They should form part of an estate plan. Attorney Philip Ruce shared three things individuals need to do to ensure that their digital assets are accounted for and can be accessed and divided when the time comes. 

Keep an Inventory of Passwords and Accounts 

In traditional estate planning, an individual would need to have an account of their assets. They need to list the properties they own, where their money is, what types of bank or retirement accounts they have, etc. The same should be done when it comes to digital assets. 

Individuals should have an inventory of their online accounts and digital assets, as well as their passwords. They can have it in a notebook, a spreadsheet, or software like Lastpass and Dashlane to manage their login information. Also, things like security questions and two-factor authentication should be considered. 

Of course, standards of safety should still apply, but having this inventory will allow trusted people and loved ones to access these accounts come time to divide the assets. 

Make Sure There’s a Digital Executor 

Similar to a personal representative or executor that’s appointed to manage an estate, there should also be a digital executor who will be in charge of accessing and managing online records. However, the digital executor will be a little more informal because they cannot distribute the assets. 

Their only role will be to access digital records. Even so, the digital executor should be someone who is trusted, such as a family member. If no digital executor has been selected, there are statutes in Minnesota that allow the executor or personal representative of a will to access digital records on the owner’s behalf. 

Consult With a Professional 

The process of accessing digital records is a complicated one that adds to the overall complexity of estate planning. Technology changes so fast and laws are lagging behind technological developments. There is nothing solid in place that helps the courts govern digital assets, so these things are played out by ear. 

Talking to and coordinating with an attorney will help an individual put a plan in place for their digital assets and ensure that the process of accessing and dividing them will be seamless.

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