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A look at how the law handles digital assets and estate planning

Florida residents who have online accounts may be interested in how those accounts are treated after their death. Depending on the service provider, it may be difficult for family members to gain access to those accounts and the information contained within them.

When a person passes away, the executor of their estate is charged with gathering their assets and distributing them as the person wished. In today's world, people own many digital assets in addition to their real-world property. These digital assets include information contained on social networking websites, email accounts and other services.

However, current estate planning laws do not necessarily consider these digital assets. There is no streamlined process for gathering this account information. Rather, the executor must get a court order to gain access to accounts. Some social networks, such as Twitter, remove the user's account once they receive confirmation of their death. Other service providers, including Google and Facebook, have introduced methods to hand over account information in the event of the user's death or lengthy inactivity.

There are other alternatives, such as SecureSafe and PasswordBox. These third-party services store passwords and account information to be delivered to another party once the account owner passes away. Like all similar cloud-based services, though, these may be subject to hacking or other security flaws, putting this important information at risk of falling into the wrong hands.

Deciding what to do about digital assets is just one piece of the estate planning puzzle. An attorney may be able to discuss the tax implications and other aspects of creating an estate plan. They may then be able to draft a set of comprehensive estate planning documents that address all areas of a person's estate.

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