When the Estate Includes Digital Assets

Fast & CompanyEstate Administration, General

If you are selected to administer a family member’s, close friend’s or business associate’s estate, chances are that in this digital age, your responsibilities could include management of the digital assets of the deceased.

When you consider that may entail responsibility for a lifetime’s worth of accounts and files uploaded to the cloud, coupled with bereaved loved ones clamoring for access, it can be a considerable burden.

While the onus is on the person who designated you as administrator to provide all the passwords you will need to access online accounts, it’s a fact of life that passwords often get changed. Sometime the one that initiates the change is the owner of the account, but other times, password requirements can become more stringent, forcing the individual to make changes. It’s quite possible that he or she may then forget to update the estate documents to reflect hastily made changes in password access.

Even if you are provided with all you need to access accounts, these digital assets can have monetary as well as sentimental value. Consider that many people accrue funds in eBay and PayPal accounts and may have invested in bitcoins. There also may be a need to assess a dollar value to digital music libraries or Kindle or Nook reading material.

There is also a possibility that the deceased participated in online gambling, and may have accrued funds in an online account from their wins. Spouses and heirs may or may not have been aware of their loved one’s online activities, which can complicate matters further in some cases.

Some online accounts may contain private information that is not meant to be disseminated widely. Unless the deceased was very specific about his or her wishes, this can be a potential minefield for an estate administrator to navigate.

As this is relatively uncharted territory, to remain in compliance with all provincial estate administration laws, it may be necessary to seek legal guidance.