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Estate plans and digital assets

Tennessee residents should make sure that their estate plans include provisions for all of their assets. This includes digital assets, such as emails.

According to one associate professor of law, the law leaves no doubt about the treatment of physical assets, like paper documents, when a person dies. However, court rulings, laws and regulations are just starting to address what should happen to the digital property people leave behind when they die. In the majority of cases, the enterprises that store the digital information determine what happens to the assets despite the wishes or instructions of decedent.

With regard to emails, which have been a fixture in the digital landscape for a long time, just 39 states have passed legislation pertaining to the handling of a decedent's emails. The laws permit people to detail in their will how their emails and social media profiles should be handled by the executor. The existence of such laws is important because without them, the company that stores the data will determine who will have access to the email accounts.

There is the assertion that the privacy of decedents should be protected. The information that can be found in or linked to emails can include images, messages, utilities and financial accounts that are necessary for individuals who have to administer the decedent's estate. The Uniform Law Commission requires that there be specific permission for the executor to access the email accounts in order for the executor to be granted access.

An attorney who practices estate planning and probate law may assist clients with ensuring that their estate plan addresses all of their assets. The attorney may advise clients of the appropriate types of wills and trusts available to ensure that their assets are handled according to their specific instructions.

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