Category Archives: Probate

How to Include Your Digital Assets in Your Estate Plan

digital assetTechnology has created new jobs, a new industry, and a new step in estate planning. The days of just gathering just paper documents folder so your love ones can find it when necessary are over. There is one more step – digital assets. Digital assets are commonplace and need to be considered when putting together an estate plan. To make sure your estate plan is complete, here are some steps to follow when gathering the information for your estate plan to make sure the digital assets are included.

Make A List

The most common documents are thought of first when gathering the information for an estate plan. Deeds to property, list of jewelry, the contents of a home are a few. When you gather all your assets together your online accounts need to be included so the executor can have access. Not sure what digital assets are? They are defined as follows:

Digital property (or digital assets) can be understood as any information about you or created by you that exists in digital form, either online or on an electronic storage device, including the information necessary to access the digital asset.

These can be family photos stored on a computer hard drive to the login information for an online financial account. To be safe, if you want to make sure anything online is passed on, resolved, or shut down after you pass, include it on this list. Whether it has monetary or sentimental value – it should be included.

Know What to Include- Examples of Personal and Monetary Digital Property

Understanding what to include in your digital list can be daunting. Consider the following when you sit down to make your digital asset list. Accounts that are used to manage money and may hold money or credits, like PayPal, bank accounts, loyalty rewards programs, and any accounts with credit balances in your favor are the digital assets that come to mind first because of the monetary value. But your digital assets can be a much more intensive list when you stop and considering everything you do on your computer.

Computer hardware, external hard drives or flash drives, tablets, smartphones, digital music players, e-readers, digital cameras, and other digital devices need to be on your list. These items may contain crucial information that may need attention in the processing of your estate. These may also have personal information you want someone to have for has for sentimental reasons. In addition, any of these have monetary value if they generate revenue. Any information or data that is stored electronically, whether stored online, in the cloud, should make the list. This includes art, photos, music, eBooks, intellectual property, websites or blogs that generate revenue for you. Domain names, including copyrighted materials, trademarks, and any code you may have written and own are other examples of digital assets that need to be considered in the estate planning process.

Any online accounts, such as email and communications accounts, social media accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you may manage. If you want these accounts shared or shut down in your estate, they need to be included.

Hire An Attorney

Lastly, I always recommend hiring an attorney when putting together an estate plan and with digital assets this is even more important. Technology is changing as a fast pace with increasingly companies using cloud based storage. In addition, intellectual property is a relatively new field. Only an attorney in the estate planning field will have the up-to-date knowledge to put your estate plan together properly and save your family time and money.

The End of the Year is the Perfect Time to Update Your Asset Inventory

When someone passes away, finding all the accounts, insurance policies, and necessary information to close an entire estate can be a monumental search. When I do an Estate Package for a client I put together a binder. This binder contains all the documents of the Estate Plan for convenience, safe keeping, and future review. Yearly review of your Estate Plan and Asset Inventory is a responsible habit to start and the end of the year is a great time year to implement this practice. Many people create an inventory when they go through the process of initially planning their estate and never touch it again. One easy way to annually update your inventory is to collect the statements you get in the mail at the end of the year for tax purposes. Place them all in a folder as they come in the mail and cross reference this against your inventory. That way you are getting a jump on your taxes AND updating your binder with the most current information on your assets. 
Also, there are significant life events that can trigger changes to the asset inventory. Examples of these are:

Divorce.

If you have gotten a divorce since the drafting of the estate plan and asset inventory, they will need to be changes. In addition, if an heir has gotten divorced this may change how you your assets will be distributed.

Marriage.

If you have gotten married, there may be additional assets that need to be added to your inventory. The information needs to be gathered and put on this list in your estate binder.

Sold or Purchased New Assets.

Did you cash in an insurance policy or purchase a new piece of land? These changes need to be added to your asset inventory to bring it current.
An asset inventory will only provide a clear “road map” for your heirs after you are gone if it is reviewed regularly. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you create an inventory of your assets and make a plan for asset preservation and distribution. If you are in the Daytona Beach, Florida area, call me for a free consultation regarding your Estate Planning needs.

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Probate and Estate Administration 101

Upon the death of a loved one, their Estate must be settled [their money & ‘stuff’ dispersed]. At a highly emotional time this can seem overwhelming to someone with no legal experience so I thought I’d write a very basic outline that folks can find while Googling late at night wanting answers.  

In a nutshell, absent a Trust or other Probate avoidance steps being taken while your loved one was alive, their Estate [with or without a Will] will be handled through a court process, which is known as Probate. Through this court process, assets are managed and then ultimately distributed. 

While every case is different, there are several basic steps that must be followed when an Estate is going through probate in the Daytona Beach area. The first step is to find an attorney you feel comfortable with to file the Petition with [or without] their Will with Probate court.  In Florida you must have an Attorney for the Probate process.  At that point, a Personal Representative is appointed.  A Notice will be sent to the heirs and known creditors, as well as a publication notice to alert any unknown creditors.  The Personal Representative will then to prepare an inventory and conduct an appraisal of the assets of the estate and prepare to pay any estate debts to the creditors.  As the probate process nears an end, the assets of the estate are sold. If required, any estate taxes are paid. Ultimately, the remaining assets are distributed to the heirs accordingly.  At best this is a six month process from start to finish.

Not only is the process lengthy but during the probate process, someone can opt to “contest” a will. In this case, that means they do not agree with the division of assets. This can be a result of children not getting equal shares, disputes over a Will being changed or even a disagreement about the whom should be the Personal Representative of the estate. These disputes can be very expensive and can extend the time that it takes to settle an estate.

With proper Estate Planning you can make the settling of the estate much easier on your family.  Estate planning can make it less costly and the process move more smoothly.  If you need help with the Probate process, Estate Planning or any aspect of planning for your future needs and the needs of your family, call me today to set up a consultation that focuses on your individual needs and the needs of your family.