by Austin Northern
In today’s internet age, almost everyone has numerous online digital accounts which share vital information about stocks, bank accounts, tax matters, medical records, financial records, e-mail, and social media such as Facebook or Twitter. These accounts are referred to as digital assets. When a person dies or becomes disabled, his or her fiduciary (an Executor, Administrator, Trustee, Conservator, or Agent under a Power of Attorney) has a duty to access, manage, and often terminate these assets.
This has been a difficult task, however, because Federal and State privacy laws, computer fraud and abuse laws, and the contracts with the service providers have obstructed the fiduciary’s access. A new law to take effect in Kansas on July 1, 2017, called the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act will make this job easier. This law, which should eventually be adopted in every state, gives fiduciaries the same right to access those assets as the account holder for the limited purpose of carrying out their fiduciary duties. It also gives the custodian (provider) of digital assets the legal authority to deal with the fiduciaries.
Of course these accounts can only be accessed if the fiduciary knows what they are and has the necessary digital location and log-in information. To protect the valuable digital assets everyone should take the following steps:
- Prepare and regularly update an Inventory of all Digital Accounts to include, name, website or other location, username and password, the information contained, and any helpful instructions. This should also include information on how to access any computer, laptop, smart phone, or other electronic device.
- Include specific powers in Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney that authorize the Executor, Trustee, or Agent under a Power of Attorney to access, take control of, and manage digital assets.
About Austin Nothern, JD: Austin is a member of Midland Care’s Planned Giving Committee and is an attorney with Coffman, DeFries & Nothern. Austin is a graduate of New York University School of Law and Washburn University School of Law who specializes in business, tax and estate planning. He served as a State Representative in the Kansas Legislature for four years and has been an adjunct professor at Washburn University School of Law. He is active in various community organizations including serving as a board member of the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Midland Care, The Sunflower Music Festival and the Topeka Civic Theater Endowment Board. He enjoys singing with the choir of Grace Episcopal Cathedral.