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How can you access the digital assets of a loved one?

Whether appointed a personal representative or a trustee, you cannot overlook digital assets. An online brokerage accounts comes with a known value. But other accounts such as iTunes or Pokémon Go! (level 14 is bringing in more than $100 on eBay) have value. Online properties like Facebook and Gmail can be notoriously difficult to access without login information.

In a post earlier this month, we discussed the new Colorado legislation that allows certain individuals to access these digital assets. In this post, we will explain the default provisions for gaining access or additional information absent a designation in an online tool.

Personal representatives

If a loved one appointed you as a personal representative to administer an estate, review whether consent was granted to access online accounts in the existing estate plan. This is the easiest route, but often neglected in estate plans.

The general rule has been that absent consent, you’d need a court order to access any content in electronic communication (emails or Facebook chats). And it would only be when reasonably necessary to administer the estate.

Under the new law even without express consent, a personal representative can access a catalog of e-communication. This would allow you to find out the email address of the sender and the time and date of the message. This can help wind down online accounts.

Trustee rules

If you are a trustee and you did not create an online account, you can access content on e-correspondence if expressly authorized in trust documents. But similar to a personal representative, you could likely gain access to a catalog of messages even without express consent.

As a personal representative or trustee, you still have certain duties when dealing with online accounts. Three general duties are:

  • Loyalty
  • Care; and
  • Confidentiality

When you are appointed as a personal representative or trustee and have questions about your legal duties, speak with a skilled estate administration lawyer for guidance. Getting questions answered correctly the first time can often avoid conflicts or mistakes.

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