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Digital Assets Inheritance in California pt. 5

Traditional Mechanisms for Inheriting California's Digital Assets

 

There are three traditional methods used in estate planning: wills and intestacy laws, beneficiary designations, and testamentary trusts. In the context of digital assets, these mechanisms may present limitations for beneficiaries.

 

Wills and Intestacy Laws

Wills, legal documents specifying an individual's wishes for the distribution of their assets after death are a cornerstone of traditional estate planning. However, they often fall short when dealing with digital assets.  Wills typically focus on tangible property and provide limited guidance for managing complex digital assets like cryptocurrency or online accounts. Additionally, intestacy laws, which govern the distribution of an estate in the absence of a will, are often silent on digital assets, leading to potential disputes and difficulties in identifying and accessing them.

 

Beneficiary Designations

Many online platforms, such as financial institutions or social media accounts, allow users to designate beneficiaries who inherit the account upon their death. This method offers a readily available and straightforward way to manage specific digital assets; however, it  carries limitations. Beneficiary designations often only transfer basic account ownership or access, not necessarily the underlying assets held within the account.  Additionally, these designations may be subject to the platforms' own terms of service, which might restrict access or impose limitations on inheritance.

 

Testamentary Trusts

Testamentary trusts established through a will offer greater flexibility and potential advantages for managing digital assets. These trusts allow individuals to appoint a trustee responsible for managing the digital assets according to the terms outlined in the trust document. This offers greater control over the distribution and management of the assets, including specifying conditions for access or transfer. 15  Testamentary trusts can also be used to manage complex digital assets, such as intellectual property rights, and can help navigate community property considerations. However, establishing and managing testamentary trusts can be more complex and expensive compared to other options. Additionally, the effectiveness of trusts in accessing certain digital assets might still be limited by individual platform policies.

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