We’re living in an increasingly digital world. We often use e-readers instead of books and GPS instead of maps. And when someone passes away, they leave behind more than photo albums, homes, and cars. Now, they often leave a digital footprint. So, instead of just dealing with tangible assets, family members often have to decide what to do with a deceased loved one’s digital assets. And law, including Alabama law, must address those digital assets.
What are digital assets?
Specific examples of digital assets include:
- Documents and information stored on electronic devices.
- Social media accounts.
- Email accounts.
- Web sites and blogs.
- Cloud storage.
- Online subscriptions.
- Online store accounts.
- Books, music, and video collections.
- Financial accounts.
- Gaming accounts.
There’s a little more to the creation, use, and maintenance of digital assets, though, than simply setting up a Facebook or Gmail account.
Digital assets exist because of and are controlled by a third party. Think Twitter or Bank of America. In the past, those third parties, or custodians, have disputed the ability of fiduciaries or executors, for example, to access digital assets when the owner is deceased or incapacitated. Often, privacy laws are cited to protect an individual’s digital content from unauthorized access.
Why do I care about them?
There may come a time when you need to access someone’s digital content. Maybe you are serving as an agent, personal representative, or executor. As a fiduciary, you may be required to manage another person’s financial account, pay bills, or make investment decisions. It may be necessary to remove information from a social media account or email or even suspend the account. State legislatures across the country are enacting laws to make this job a little easier.
Alabama’s digital asset law.
The Alabama legislature passed House Bill 138 on May 11, 2017. The Bill adopts the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act and becomes effective on January 1, 2018.
The law allows fiduciaries, personal representatives, and conservators to control or access personal digital assets under certain conditions. Some third-parties allow users to designate a person who is permitted to access their digital content or indicate that they do not want to grant access. Alabama law does not change terms-of-service agreements put in place by custodians.
An inventory of digital assets – part of a comprehensive estate plan.
The attorneys at Adams Miller, LLP can help you assess your needs and develop the right plan to meet those needs. For a free consultation, contact us at 256-251-2137 or use our convenient Contact Form. We have offices in Anniston and Birmingham and serve clients in Gadsden, Hoover, Talladega, Vestavia Hills, and surrounding areas.