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Accessing online assets during probate

In 2007, Microsoft completed a study revealing that people who used the internet had an average of 25 digital accounts. These included online banking, social networks and a variety of others. This study took place a decade ago, and in that time, technology has dramatically increased the ability to conduct many personal transactions digitally. Unfortunately, most people in Michigan still do not understand the importance of those digital assets when it comes to estate administration and probate.

It may be easy to inventory one's physical assets, such as real property, jewelry, investment accounts and cash. However, it is apparently not as easy to recognize digital assets which may be overlooked during estate planning. Many people have data stored in cloud computing, photo collections, blogs and social media accounts. Fortunately, technology is growing, allowing internet users to prepare their online accounts for after they pass away.

Because of important privacy laws which protect people from identity theft, family members and friends cannot automatically access the Facebook accounts, for example, of loved ones who die. In many cases, a social media site owner will have to name someone to manage the account after the owner's death. Some social media sites like Twitter may automatically close the account if the owner has not been active for a certain period of time. Others are willing to work with family members who want to access the accounts of deceased loved ones.

Family members may need the emotional connection to a loved one by having the ability to interact with his or her online accounts. Additionally, some online accounts are indeed assets, such as PayPal or Bitcoin, and should be included in an asset inventory during estate administration and probate. Including these in one's estate plan is important, but an attorney may be able to assist Michigan estate executors in accessing those important online assets.

Source: frontiersman.com, "Visible Digital: Your digital life from beyond the grave", Bobbi Booker, Nov. 9, 2017

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