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Digital estate planning tips and Canada's privacy laws

In the digital era, Canadians have more and more "digital assets" stored online. These digital assets could be photographs on Facebook, they could be reams of email messages between family and friends, and they could be your blog content. Digital assets can also be found on online investment accounts, online banking statements and more.

Digital assets may have monetary value, or they might just have sentimental value. Either way, estate planners may have a specific person in mind to give these assets to, and it will be the job of the estate executor to transfer access to the digital assets over to heirs. The estate executor may also need to access digital financial accounts in order to complete his or her charge as executor.

So how do estate planners prepare their "digital estates" for the day they die to make the process of navigating so many internet accounts easy for their executors and heirs? Via a "letter of direction," it is possible to specifically tell the executor of an estate what will happen to different digital assets after the estate planner dies. This letter of direction will also include information about each and every online account the individual uses, in addition to the passwords and login information for those accounts.

Estate planners need to remember that privacy laws in Canada make things difficult for executors who want to access the digital accounts of an estate. Most online accounts make it impossible for anyone other than the account holder to access the information contained in the accounts. Therefore, pictures on Facebook and other social media-type account information may be inaccessible to family members who do not have your name and password. By making a list of social media accounts, and passwords, and giving it to a trusted family member who shall have access to this information, estate planners can make things easier for family members who want to access pictures and other information.

For the complete picture regarding digital estate planning strategies, British Columbia residents may want to bring up the topic with their estate planning lawyers. The law is always changing when it comes to the internet and estate planning, and a lawyer will be able to inform estate planners how digital estate planning is affected by the most up-to-date laws.

Source: The Star Phoenix, "McBride: Digital estate planning," Terry McBride, accessed July 28, 2016

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