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Online assets increasingly important in estate planning inventory

When you visit a Florida estate planning attorney to begin the process of preparing your estate planning documents, one of the first instructions you will likely get is to prepare an inventory of your assets. That will require you to go through all of your financial assets, such as bank accounts and retirement plans, as well as all of your physical assets, such as real estate, vehicles and jewelry. Over the last few years, however, online assets have become an important part of estate administration as well.

In recent years, more and more people have started to keep their information in cloud storage. Most of this important information is, or should be, password-protected. But what if you die or become so ill that you can no longer manage your online information? A recent case against Yahoo! illustrates the obstacles that loved ones could face trying to access your online information after your death. The Yahoo! case involved a man who was killed in a 2006 car accident. Since then, his siblings have been fighting with Yahoo! to access his email account. In 2013, after seven years of litigation, a court ruled that Yahoo! does not have to divulge the information.

At the heart of the case is what many people encounter every day on the Internet. When you sign up for a service such as an email account or even Facebook, you will likely be asked to check a box indicating that you have read and agreed with the terms and conditions of the service. If you have ever clicked on that link, you might have decided to check the box anyway instead of reading what looks like pages of legalese. But somewhere in the fine print is the service's policy on divulging password information, mainly to protect the service from violating privacy laws.

Although accessing your loved one's photos and other sentimental "assets" may be important, when he or she has used the Internet to manage financial accounts and pay bills, the stakes can be much higher.

Cyberspace rules may prevail over laws in Florida or even federal laws. When preparing your estate, make sure to consult an estate planning attorney to ensure that your online assets are included and that you have created a plan or power of attorney for your heirs to address these potential estate complexities.

Source: Forbes, "When Heirs Must Battle for Access to E-mail Accounts," Deborah L. Jacobs, Dec. 11, 2013

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