Trusts and Estates

Ca. Trs. & Estates Quarterly 2015, Volume 21, Issue 2

THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF ESTATE PLANNING FOR DIGITAL ASSETS IN CALIFORNIA

By Michael Rosen-Prinz, Esq.*

I. INTRODUCTION

Few things characterize the changes over the last twenty years as clearly as the ubiquitous presence of the Internet in our lives. As of 2014, 87 percent of American adults used the Internet regularly, with the percentage among those who earn at least $75,000 per year rising to 99 percent.1 Eighty-four percent of American adults own a personal computer2 and 64 percent own a smartphone.3 Concurrent with the increased access to the Internet and use of computers and other personal electronic devices is the proliferation of online accounts and other digital assets.

The significant presence and impact of the digital world on individuals is highlighted at death, when the fiduciary of a decedent’s estate must account for, transition or dispose all of the digital assets acquired and developed during life. Otherwise, the digital life of the decedent will continue to exist in perpetuity—until, at least, someone hacks that forgotten digital life and uses it to apply for credit cards, or to send spam e-mail messages to friends and loved ones.4

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