Digital Assets – Coming Soon to a State Near You!

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Cutout Constellation

 

Colorado may soon be getting some legislation in place concerning digital assets in the probate context! Today’s post will look at the benefits of having a digital assets clause in such estate planning documents as a general durable power of attorney or in a will.

Here’s the link to SB 16-88, which is a bipartisan bill entitled “Concerning the ‘Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act,’” or RUFADAA for short.  The RUFADAA has been introduced in 29 different state legislatures so far.  I have already written several blog posts on this topic of “digital assets,” and my most recent one on the topic mentioned the revision of the uniform act by the Uniform Law Commissioners (ULC) last July.  If you’re looking for a bit of background on digital assets, read this post.

Of course I still don’t know for certain whether the RUFADAA will pass (still working at using my crystal ball successfully . . . ), but it seems like it will.  On Monday (2/22/16), it was introduced in the House and assigned to the Judiciary Committee.  The controversies which plagued its predecessor, the UFADAA, have largely been eliminated with the ULC’s RUFADAA.

So to begin, here’s a few helpful pointers.

  1. Specify and distinguish between assets and access

It’s not enough to simply generally describe online or digital assets in a POA or other estate planning document because there are important nuances and details which third parties, upon whose approval an agent acting for a principal must depend, which must be address.  The difference I’m talking about here is identified in the bill’s distinction set forth in §15-1-1502(9), which states a “designated recipient” means a person chosen by a user using an online too. To administer digital assets of the user,” and §15-1-1502 (10) “digital asset” means an electronic record in which an individual has a right or interest . . . .

Keep in mind that some internet service providers already provide their own online tools by which a user can designate individuals who are authorized to receive the content of a user’s account in the event it is inactive for a period of time determined by the internet service provider (ISP).  On Facebook, for example, this is known as a legacy contact.

In this circumstance described above, the fiduciary for a decedent estate (a/k/a the personal representative in Colorado) or an agent under a POA must contend first with the user/principal’s specific direction (if it exists) and to the extent that no designation was made by the user/principal, then the governing instrument (e.g., a POA) would control.  Finally, if there is neither a specific direction by a user/principal as to who shall have the power to access nor a POA or other governing instrument, then the standard term of service agreement controls.

  1. Recognize and give priority where applicable to “online tools”

This coordination of designations in an ISP’s online tools with, for example a POA, is an important undertaking for RUFADAA purposes.  If the user (be they a principal under a POA or the decedent in an estate administration proceeding) has already designated a person or persons to have access consistent with the ISP’s online tools, this will take precedence over the estate planning documents.  See the RUFADAA at §15-1-1504.  In this context, it would be a good idea for the user to ensure that the selected agent is not only just the agent for POA purposes but is also a designated recipient as identified above.

  1. Things are continually evolving!

Evolving was chosen over changing because it has a more positive gloss, doesn’t it? The change is ongoing.  These will keep estate planning and probate lawyers on our toes to advise client of developments affecting access with the use of online tools and also ensuring that a user’s selected fiduciary (agent, personal representative, etc.) will have access to the assets as intended by the user.

So – a scenario to avoid would be one in which the user designates one person to have access by naming them a designated recipient, but then (perhaps at some later date, unwittingly) names another and different person as (for example) agent under a POA.  This kind of a conflict will cause problems and should be avoided.  No, this online networked world we live in is not getting any simpler to manage!

© Barbara E. Cashman 2016   www.DenverElderLaw.org

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act

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Siennese Door

This is an important development regarding the Uniform Law Commission’s Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA).  I learned that there is a new and revised version of the uniform law which has in the last few days been approved by the ULC.  It is known as the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (2015).  In my last post on this topic in May, I described the short-lived history of HB 15-1189, the UFADAA in the Colorado legislature.

In June, yours truly was interviewed, along with Connie Smith of Fairfield & Woods, for the article “Assembling the Digital Legacy” which appeared in Law Week Colorado.  The article, written by Doug Chartier (sorry, no link as it is paid subscription only), described the ever changing landscape of identifying and managing digital assets for the living (as agent, conservator or trustee) or for the deceased (as personal representative).  The article reads a bit like an obituary for the UFADAA, which was enthusiastically presented in nearly two dozen state legislatures but met stiff opposition from diverse groups including (in Colorado) the Colorado Bankers Association and the ACLU.  Only one state has adopted the UFADAA so far and in most states where the legislation was introduced the UFADAA has already been rejected. This over what is broadly termed as “third party privacy concerns.”  The basic concern would be, to give one example, for those with whom the digital asset owner would have communicated – say via email, and whose private and protected information would be disclosed to a fiduciary acting on behalf of another (as defined in the UFADAA, but generally an agent under a POA, a personal representative of an estate and so forth) without the third party’s knowledge or consent.  It isn’t just about reading mail anymore, or emails for that matter!

Here’s a recent article in Forbes magazine about how forgetting to make plans about digital assets like social media can create post-mortem lawsuits.  One of the spot-on observations made in the article was about the difficulties in transferring digital assets and its potential to create unplanned business succession challenges as well as ongoing estate planning difficulties.  Getting back to the Law Week article, both Connie Smith and I agreed that online services for storage of passwords, usernames and other credentials for online accounts (digital assets, broadly defined) are problematic because of the concentration of personal data.  I give my estate planning clients an organizational “letter of instruction” which has a page for these online accounts and other digital assets. At this time I think the best way to maintain this information is in paper format, which can be easily updated on a personal computer and printed out periodically.  And no, you shouldn’t call the document “my online accounts and how to access them,” but maybe come up with something more creative!

In the meantime, don’t forget about making plans for those digital assets.  Here’s a helpful article from the American Bar Association on this topic.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to link to the revised version of the UFADAA on the Uniform Law Commisioner’s website – it does not yet appear to be available there.  I have a word version of the revised UFADAA, but haven’t had the chance to read it while comparing its previous version.  I’m sure that will be a topic of a future blog post. . . . !

©Barbara Cashman  2015   www.DenverElderLaw.org

Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets – an update of sorts

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Italian Wall

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written a post about digital assets in the probate context.  This year, Colorado was one of twenty-three states whose legislatures introduced the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA).  Keep in mind that the uniform act was endorsed by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) of which I am a member.  The Colorado House Bill to enact the UFADAA was introduced at the beginning of the year, HB 15- 1189, and can be read here.  Its short lived history is this: introduced in the Colorado House and assigned to the Judiciary Committee on January 29, committee discussion took place on February 19, and then on March 12, 2015, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to postpone indefinitely further action.

Our legislature has postponed further action on this uniform law, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t important for people and estate planning attorneys to address issues concerning access to digital assets by fiduciaries in the probate context.  According to the bill fiduciaries included the following: a personal representative of a decedent’s estate (where there is a will or codicil or also a special administrator); a conservator acting on behalf of a protected person; a trustee acting under a trust; and an agent acting under a durable power of attorney.  The bill specifically addressed each type of fiduciary and their access to a digital asset in further detail.

The Colorado Bar Association subcommittee charged with discussion of this uniform law as a Colorado bill also discussed Colorado-specific inclusions to the Uniform Act, like access by a “successor” as defined in  our probate code when a small estate is collected by affidavit. Basic Information about using this form is found on the Colorado State Judicial website, www.courts.state.co.us and searching for the JDF 999 form, with instructions found at JDF 998.

Specifically excluded from application is access by an employer for an asset used by an employee in the course of the employer’s business.

So HB 1189 didn’t become law because it died in committee, but that doesn’t mean that at least some of us estate and elder law attorneys (especially ones like me who prefer to use their own form and not someone else’s) don’t still include provisions regarding digital assets in a durable power of attorney form.  Colorado remains in the majority of states which have no legislation regarding digital assets in the probate law context, but that doesn’t mean we should feel comfortable remaining complacent and not doing anything to plan just because our legislature didn’t pass this important legislation. . . .  There are step we can take to help ensure that a fidicuairy will have access to important fiduciary assets, but without a state statute to that effect, it is much less certain exactly what type of access will be allowed or recognized.

So here’s a bit of a review of why these measures are important to include in a general durable power of attorney and a will or trust:

  1. Identifying and providing an inventory of one’s digital “footprint” will greatly simplify an agent or other fiduciary’s ability to take control of an incapacitated or deceased person’s digital assets in keeping with the stated desires of the person giving the power – like a principal under a POA, the settlor of a trust, or a testator (the maker of a will). This can be done easily by keeping an update listing in a place that is discoverable or known to an agent, for example.
  2. Giving a fiduciary access to important information like usernames, passwords and the like, will greatly simplify the fiduciary’s efforts and ability get access from a service provider or to shut it down. The law in this regard is complicated – it involves user agreements, which often are based on the law of a state where the service provider is headquartered and not in which the user resides, and implicates also the federal law relating to the use of the internet.
  3. When a person gives another, such as a person acting as a fiduciary for that person, the authority to act, there should also be some instructions about what should be done with the particular asset. This will obviously makes the fiduciary’s job much simpler as a job description takes much of the mystery out of such an undertaking.
  4. The person who is the account holder should also expressly authorize service providers to disclose private information to a person’s fiduciary so as to evidence the person’s intent to give access to such information and to provide the authorized access to the information or data as a consequent of such access. This is why some of us, myself included, include specific clause to this effect in a durable power of attorney.

That’s all for now, but I will keep you posted as things continue to develop.

©Barbara Cashman  2015   www.DenverElderLaw.org