For some time, estate planners have been aware of the need to provide for access to a decedent’s digital assets. Michigan recently enacted the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (the “Act”), which offers legal tools for passing digital assets to one’ estate, and guiding fiduciaries who must administer their decedent’s estate.
Digital assets can take many forms. Facebook and LinkedIn accounts are generally considered digital assets, although the more important assets for purposes of the Act will be photos, writings, and any type of data kept by someone in the “cloud.” Think ITunes as a primary example. The Act does not apply to bank or investment accounts which may be accessed on-line.
We were always able to appoint Personal Representatives and Trustees to manage a decedent’s digital assets. Such actions were unnecessary and perhaps even futile under previous law. Now we have a legal “stick” to enforce that appointment when necessary. Digital providers such as Apple or Google must recognize the authority of the Fiduciary when the appropriate requests are made. The digital powers that be have of course baked some limits and conditions into the law, but the situation has improved.
This is fairly new territory, so it will be interesting to see how this area of the law develops the next few years. Stay tuned.