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Nowadays, assets aren't simply things you can hold in your hand

When people in Oakland County think about estate planning, more than likely, what comes to mind are physical assets: real estate -- including the family home -- cars, and household goods. Additionally, retirement accounts or stock portfolios are considered to be assets, and while you can't exactly hold the contents of your 401(k) in your hand, you could theoretically sell it and convert it to cash, which you could then literally put in your pocket.

However, there is a whole new class of assets that essentially didn't exist not that long ago: what are being called digital assets. These include items that perhaps once would have existed in the real world, such as family photographs, songs and videos, and tax and medical records. This might also include things that have no "real-world" counterparts, such as emails and passwords to online accounts.

These days, many people who advise clients regarding estate planning suggest to their clients that they inventory their digital assets when they are writing a will. This can include all of the above-mentioned assets such as photos and videos but also passwords to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, not to mention email -- where some people conduct a large portion of their lives these days.

Other digital assets are things that have value, but only when they are used -- such as frequent flier miles with an airline. While a plane trip might only be worth a few hundred dollars, surveys have revealed that Americans think their digital assets are routinely worth tens of thousands of dollars -- definitely enough to account for in a will.

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

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