Did You Forget About Your Digital Assets? Understanding the Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act

Did You Forget About Your Digital Assets? Understanding the Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act

In 2016, Florida passed the Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (the “Act”) to allow Florida’s probate law to develop with the digital age. Much like the traditional probate code, the Act regulates who and when someone may legally access a decedent’s digital assets.

What is a Digital Asset?
A “digital asset” is any electronic record in which an individual has a right or interest. This term includes the underlying asset if that asset is itself an electronic record. For example, the money in your online bank account is not a digital asset because the underlying money is physical. But, the photos, digital books, documents, emails, blogs, cryptocurrency, reward points, and other information stored on a digital device are considered a digital asset because it is, in and of itself, an electronic record.

Who May Access Your Digital Assets?
Generally, only a fiduciary or designated recipient may legally access your digital assets upon your death. When an individual passes away, the court will appoint someone to maintain and/or distribute the estate’s assets to the designated recipients. This person, referred to as a fiduciary, is defined by the Act to include a personal representative, guardian, agent, or trustee. The Act also provides that the decedent may direct the disclosure of digital assets to a designated recipient in a will, trust, power of attorney, or other record.

When May a Fiduciary or Designated Recipient Access Your Digital Assets?
A fiduciary acting under an estate plan that does not address digital assets must obtain a court order to gain access to the content of electronic communications. But, if your estate plan addresses digital assets, the fiduciary or designated recipients may access the content of electronic communications and other digital assets when they supply the custodian with:

  1. A written request for disclosure;
  2. A certified copy of the death certificate of the user;
  3. A certified copy of letters of administration, order authorizing a curator or administrator ad litem, order of summary administration, or other court order; and
  4. A copy of the user’s will, trust, power of attorney, or other record showing the user’s consent to disclosure of the content of electronic communications.

Content of electronic communications include any writing, images, or data transferred by or to the decedent that is not readily accessible to the public. For example, emails or private messages are considered content of electronic communications. Other digital assets include all digital assets that are not considered content of electronic communications. For example, this may include photos or messages available to the public, digital currency, online accounts, or information stored on a digital device. And a custodian is a person or entity, like Facebook or Yahoo, that carries, maintains, or stores a digital asset of a user.

While a custodian retains the discretion to grant a fiduciary or designated recipient full or partial access to the decedent’s account, the custodian must not disclose content of electronic communications without a court order or consent by the decedent. Thus, if your estate plan does not address digital assets, the fiduciary must obtain a court order directing the custodian to release the specific electronic communications.

Why Should Your Estate Plan Include Digital Assets?
Without an estate plan protecting digital assets, your family may experience financial stress and lose memories.

First, a decedent who does not protect their digital assets may cause their family to experience financial stress. According to a study performed by McAffee, the average American has over $55,000 in digital assets.

When a decedent passes away, their estate must be administered according to their estate plan or state intestacy laws. To properly administer the estate, a court must appoint a fiduciary to locate and safeguard all of the estate’s assets. No one may legally access the estate’s general assets until a fiduciary is appointed by the court. If your estate plan does include digital assets, there may be a dispute regarding who should be appointed fiduciary of the digital assets which will create financial stress. For example, if you have automatic payments for bills or monthly subscriptions, you would be unable to legally access those accounts to make or cancel payments until a fiduciary is appointed.

Even after a fiduciary is appointed, they must obtain a court order to gain access to content of electronic communications. Moreover, the estate may be forced to go through probate if digital assets are not included in the estate plan. This process can be expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally tolling on your family. But, it can be avoided with proper planning.

Second, a decedent who does not protect their digital assets may cause their family to lose sentimental memories. If a decedent passes away without addressing their digital assets, the decedent’s fiduciary may not have access to the decedent’s photos, internet posts, emails, or videos. Valuable content such as emails or private writings may also be lost if the court does not order the custodian to provide the fiduciary or designated beneficiaries with that content.

An unfortunate, but all to common, example of the emotional toll associated with failing to include digital assets in an estate plan is displayed when a family member passes away. Often times, there is valuable sentimental content or conversations stored in the deceased’s online messages or notes that are lost forever.

How Can You Protect Your Digital Assets?

  1. Create a list of your digital assets with the corresponding password, username or account number, and evidence linking the account to you.
  2. Designate a recipient to have (or not have) access to the digital asset through a tool provided by the custodian. For example, Facebook allows you to choose a “legacy”.
  3. Meet with an Estate Planning Attorney to draft or amend your will, trust, and/or power of attorney so that your digital assets will be devised properly upon your death and your family can avoid the financial and emotional stresses associated with probate.

If you have more questions about protecting your digital assets, reach out to one of our estate planning attorneys or fill out our website contact form.

Attorney Robert M. Baldwin Joins ShuffieldLowman

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – ShuffieldLowman recently announced that attorney Robert M. Baldwin has joined the firm, working in the DeLand office as Senior Counsel in the area of estate planning.  Baldwin brings more than 15 years of large, national law firm experience to the community of Deland and the surrounding Volusia County area.  His prior legal experience spans everything from estate planning, family law, bankruptcy, and tax, to contract and civil law.

Baldwin received his B.A. from Kent State University and his J.D. from Ohio Northern University, where he completed a legal sabbatical at Oxford University.  He is a member of the Bar in Florida, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. and admitted to practice before the Southern, Middle, and Northern Districts of Florida and the Western District of Michigan.

Active in his community, Baldwin is a member of two local bands and he and his wife regularly perform at the Athens Theatre in DeLand.

ShuffieldLowman’s four offices are located in Orlando, Tavares, DeLand and Port Orange. The firm is a 40 attorney, full service, business law firm, practicing in the areas of corporate law, estate planning, real estate and litigation. Specific areas include, tax law, securities, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, estate planning and probate, planning for families with closely held businesses, guardianship and elder law, tax controversy – Federal and State, non-profit organization law, banking and finance, land use and government law, commercial and civil litigation, fiduciary litigation, construction law, association law, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights, labor and employment, and mediation.

Attorney Ryan J. Vescio Joins ShuffieldLowman

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – ShuffieldLowman recently announced that Ryan J. Vescio has joined the firm, working in the Orlando office’s litigation section.

Vescio formerly served as an assistant state attorney for 15 years, conducting more than 150 jury trials while prosecuting cases involving everything from high profile homicides to child abuse and sex trafficking cases.  Vescio’s experience handling a wide variety of complex cases, working with a large network of attorneys, judges and experts and navigating the complexities of the court system, he now puts to work as a commercial, civil and fiduciary litigator.

Vescio holds his J.D. from Nova Southeastern University – Shepard Broad Law Center and his B.A., in Political Science, from the University of Central Florida.  While attending UCF, he joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity and has been an avid and lifelong supporter of the organization, serving currently on the International Board of Directors.  He also serves as a Director of the UCF Alumni Board.  Vescio is a member of The Florida Bar and The Ohio bar.

ShuffieldLowman’s four offices are located in Orlando, Tavares, DeLand and Port Orange. The firm is a 40 attorney, full service, business law firm, practicing in the areas of corporate law, estate planning, real estate and litigation. Specific areas include, tax law, securities, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, estate planning and probate, planning for families with closely held businesses, guardianship and elder law, tax controversy – Federal and State, non-profit organization law, banking and finance, land use and government law, commercial and civil litigation, fiduciary litigation, construction law, association law, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights, labor and employment, and mediation.

Client Spotlight: Florida Surety Bonds, Inc.

Promises are really the bottom line when it comes to bonded work – promises to fulfill obligations in the event of disruptions to project completion and/or payment.  Florida Surety Bonds, Inc. has helped their clients to keep their promises for 20 years, and grown into the largest independently owned bond agency in Florida.  They enjoy a much-deserved sterling reputation, affording them the credibility and clout to provide a wide variety of customized bonds in a timely and efficient manner, delivered with outstanding service.  According to Kim Niv, Vice President/Principal, “We’re known for investing in relationships, providing continuing guidance, support and information.  Some clients have consulted with us for many years before they actually need our services, and we are happy to help them navigate the complexities of the bond system.  They know we are here for them when they need us.”

Working with businesses of all sizes, from some of the largest contractors in the state to start-up companies, Florida Surety Bonds focuses on designing the best bond program for each client, using one of their 50+ surety companies.  They have negotiated pre-approved lines of credit for clients, which means faster service.  Thanks to their bonds-only expertise, and outstanding reputation with surety companies as an ethical partner, Florida Surety Bonds has qualified for exclusive surety appointments within the State of Florida.  This gives their clients unmatched access to maximum programs and minimum rates with the most competitive conditions.  This combination of experience and market access allows the agency to help clients grow their businesses, working with them as an integral part of their team, and problem-solving as they pursue new job opportunities together.

Bonds available through Florida Surety Bonds, Inc., include contract bonds (bid, performance, and payment), commercial, civil court, and license and permit bonds.  Applying for smaller bonds is made simple with an online application tool for contractors and a helpful FAQ section of the company website.  But they invite business owners to sit down with one of their expert agents to custom craft larger programs.

Florida Surety Bonds, Inc. is proud to recommend ShuffieldLowman to clients and prospective clients when they need legal assistance, including contract review, estate planning, and dispute resolution.