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Estate planning consists of making preparations for distribution of a person's assets after he or she dies. Most people in Maryland look at assets as tangible physical items, such as houses, real estate or even cash money. However, people tend to overlook digital assets when making plans for estate administration. This is a mistake which can have significant consequences for intended beneficiaries.

A digital asset is any possession or work which has been placed for storage on a computer or on the Internet. This can include any type of digital file or data, such as emails, photographs, videos and even playlists. Other common and important digital assets include tax documentation as well as medical records. Even paperless bank statements are considered digital assets in a person's estate.

Many financial and legal experts suggest that consumers take into consideration these digital assets when planning their estates. In some ways it is even more important to include digital assets in an estate plan than even physical assets. States have rules for how to administer an estate when a person dies without instructions in a will. However, the legal system has yet to develop rules and procedures for administering digital assets in this situation.

Just like with physical assets, planning for the distribution of digital assets will save intended beneficiaries in Maryland time and money. Failing to include digital assets in estate plans can cause beneficiaries to be required to go through a lengthy and expensive probate process in order to obtain access to important digital assets. It is also important to keep up-to-date on new developments in the law regarding digital assets and how they are distributed during estate administration.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "'Digital assets': the new frontier for estate planning," Tim Grant, May 13, 2013

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