Estate planning, usually includes writing a valid will, perhaps creating one or more trusts, and choosing an executor to administer the estate. Changes in probate laws, reflective of societal changes, may complicate that planning. One fairly recent change addresses the increasing importance of a client’s digital legacy. The role of executor is evolving to reflect the significance of on-line presence, leading savvy estate planners to advise to select a digital executor in addition to the traditional executor of an estate.
The ability to respect and maintain privacy is an important consideration for any executor, but because a digital executor manages a person’s on-line presence, that executor must also be knowledgeable about and comfortable with technology. Depending on the extent of on-line interaction, one person may even choose different digital executors. For example, one may focus on cryptocurrency while another may focus on social media and electronic files.
One of the reasons to designate more than one digital executor is the diverse skills required to manage digital activity. Working with on-line finances requires a different skill set, for example, than managing social media accounts. Financial assets that may need to be managed digitally include
- On-line banking accounts and on-line bill paying;
- Credit and Debit Cards;
- Cryptocurrency accounts;
- Money-management accounts;
- On-line reward programs such as frequent flyer miles;
- On-line subscriptions, such as Amazon or web-hosting sites; and
- Business related accounts.
A critical consideration for estate planners is the fact that on-line accounts associated with brick-and-mortar institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, often have restrictions in place that allow only the traditional executor to access and/or close accounts.
In addition to financial management, the digital executor may need to archive, destroy, or pass along the decedent’s hard drives, blogs and websites, social media accounts, including dating apps, as well as digital photos, videos, and music. In addition, the duties of the digital executor often includes informing on-line contacts of the decedent’s death.
Evolving Rules and Laws
While not all states formally recognize the authority of a digital executor, Texas enacted SB1193 in 2017, which authorizes an executor to access and manage digital and electronic accounts, assets, and communication. Another way to ensure smooth and easy access to an executor is to share a complete list of on-line accounts as well as log-in information. However, as on-line security increases with requirements such as two-step verification, accessing on-line accounts becomes more challenging, highlighting the importance of an executor who is adept with technology.
Because technology is evolving, and laws about technology are evolving, instructions should be specific enough to clarify needs and wishes while at the same time allowing for changes in statute. An experienced probate attorney will help to create an estate plan that considers current laws and future opportunities, providing peace of mind for the estate planner and family members.
All information provided on Silblawfirm.com (hereinafter "website") is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used for legal advice. Users of this website should not take any actions or refrain from taking any actions based upon content or information on this website. Users of this site should contact a licensed Texas attorney for a full and complete review of their legal issues.