Digitizing Your Assets

Dear Friends,

Last week, Hurricane Ida caused devastating flooding in New Orleans, New York and New Jersey. Many families lost all of their belongings and personal memories to the flood waters. Personal items like photos and documents that become lost due to natural disaster are catastrophic for families.

My parents’ home was flooded by intense rain as Hurricane Ida ravaged New York City.  Their garage and basement were filled with four feet of rain water in a matter of minutes. It was a frightening and shocking experience and we are fortunate that they were physically unharmed.  However, their basement contained all the family photo albums and memories of our family, not to mention the damage the rain water caused to the infrastructure of their home. Fortunately, their neighbor came over as soon as the water receded and pulled out the photos to dry them in their back yard. As a result, they were able to save many photos that otherwise would have been lost forever.

As a firm, we have counseled our clients over the years to plan for their digital assets (online accounts, emails, online photo albums, computer access passcodes, etc.) and indicate who and what their successor should have access to after incapacity or death.  My parents’ situation reminds me that for many of us whose lives preceded the mass digital transformation, it’s important to make sure that the non-digital memories are preserved and saved.

Natural disasters seem to occur more frequently now more than ever, so I thought it might be a good time for us to secure the things we hold precious and in physical form. Photos, passports, family stories and mementos, social security cards, tax records, estate planning binders, and so on. But, how do we store them?

One idea is to digitize these items and scan them so they can be stored as digital assets.

How We Can Help…

Some of us do not fully realize the value of these digital assets and the potential for financial and sentimental loss if this property is lost or rendered inaccessible. Therefore, an important part of our estate planning considerations pertains to the digital assets our clients may hold. This includes a digital copy of your estate plan binder over our secure server for you to download and have for your own personal access in case your documents are damaged.

Who Will Have Access?

In circumstances of disability, incapacity, or death, would your digital assets and accounts be accessible by a trusted third-party? We recommend planning ahead by preparing a complete list of online accounts, user ID’s, URL’s and digital property stored on each so your fiduciaries can request proper access if and when necessary. In a will, trust, or power of attorney, certain access rights can be granted to your fiduciary. You may even want some accounts to remain inaccessible. Ensuring there is a trusted special fiduciary to manage these pre-planned choices can overcome what would have been significant hurdles for your family and loved ones.

Take Action

If your digital asset protection needs have changed since drafting your estate plan, Eckert Byrne offers timely Client Maintenance to certify that your estate plan accurately reflects your evolving goals and wishes. We have expanded our scope of digital access protections in recent years and your plan may benefit from a closer look at these important belongings and memories. If you would like to schedule a Legal Checkup with me or be added to our Annual Maintenance Program, please contact Noah at [email protected] to be added to my calendar.

– Anna Byrne