With the increasing prevalence of online banking and interactions, much of our lives is completely paperless. This has resulted in loved ones being unable to find all the decedent’s account information. “Cyber intestacy” or the failure to have proper estate planning in place for your online accounts can be costly, as discussed in a Wall Street Journal article titled, “Vonnegut: The New Estate Planning That’s Critical for Clients”. Some of these issues include accounts that are not discovered, automatic online payments that continue after death or credit card bills that go unpaid. As discussed in our April newsletter, without careful planning, our loved ones may not be able to access our digital assets.
Most terms-of-service agreements for cyber accounts include information about who can access these accounts. It is pretty common for companies to require permission for anyone besides the account holder to access the account. Congress and state governments have enacted laws that penalize unauthorized access to your online accounts. Unfortunately, most of this legislation has not covered allowing a fiduciary to act on your behalf after your death.
There is, however, good news for Michigan residents. Our governor recently signed into the law the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act which grants fiduciaries the right to access digital assets. In our ever-increasing on-line world, it is recommended that a person’s estate planning also include the authority for access to digital assets in the event of disability or death.