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Gainesville Florida Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Internet Impacts Your Financial Planning

Gone are the days when people kept important things in filing cabinets, banks, and photo albums. Now everything from communications, to photos, to music, to sensitive financial information is often kept online. A recent Pew Research Center study showed that 51 percent of U.S. adults bank online, and 63 percent of all American adults, and 27 percent of all Americans 65 and over, use social networking sites.

But while the Internet has made things easier in many ways, it can cause a lot of complications when someone dies or loses the ability to manage their own affairs. That’s why the Uniform Law Commission, a group of state-appointed attorneys, created the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) as a way to clear up some of the complications. 

Right now, accessing a loved one’s account could be a criminal act. So what becomes of a person’s digital life, such as their Facebook accounts, Flickr photos, and online banking information, when they die or become incapacitated?  Even if a will contains instructions, there is no guarantee the person’s wishes will be carried out. 

Often, only the account holder can legally access their online account. The terms of agreement on many sites prohibit sharing passwords and third-party access. In fact, it may be an actual criminal act to violate those terms of the service agreement.

The current limits on access make the problem of identity theft even worse. The year after somebody passes is one of the most vulnerable times for identity theft.  Because death is public record, the bad guys comb through recently deceased and create a fake identity, because the deceased don’t check email and they don’t get the mail. And the inability to access a loved one’s digital assets makes problems much harder to stop.

Currently, there’s no good answer. Florida is among the majority of states that have no laws in place to deal with these issues. A bill is being filed for consideration by the state legislature in 2015. This will give people the power to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets the same way they can make plans for their tangible property: by providing instructions in a will, trust, or power of attorney. If a person fails to plan, the law contains provisions for distributing those assets.


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