Originally posted on 4/19/19, no content changes
Here is a sad, but true, story: The parents of a 35-year-old man who suddenly passed away retained a law firm to administer their son’s estate. The law firm asked the parents for a copy of their son’s Will, his income tax return, his bank and brokerage statements, and his life insurance policies. Unfortunately, none of these documents could be produced, as the son had gone paperless (everything was stored electronically on the son’s computer) and failed, during his lifetime, to provide anyone with his user identification and password.
Stories like this raise new legal issues – issues that didn’t have to be addressed before – as years ago, people stored their most important documents in safes, fire proof cabinets, and safe deposit boxes. Now, almost all documents are stored electronically and paper documents are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Almost everyone dreams of going paperless as paper takes up space and can be hard to find. In contrast, electronically stored documents can be accessed 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, as long as the correct user ID and password is used. Unfortunately, more often than not, user IDs and passwords aren’t written down, much less shared with other individuals. As a result, it’s difficult (in some cases, almost impossible) to recover important electronically stored information – information that will be needed to properly administer a decedent’s estate.
User IDs and passwords need to be safeguarded. Otherwise, electronically stored data won’t be secure. But, at the same time, user IDs and passwords need to be shared with the individuals named as the executors in the Will. Otherwise, as noted above, the beneficiaries named in the Will may not be able to gain access to their inheritance.
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Maurice Offit is a founder of Offit Kurman, a firm which started with only two attorneys in 1987, but today has 19 offices in nine states and the District of Columbia and is ranked on Am Law’s 200 list as one of the 200 highest-grossing law firms in the United States. Maurice therefore knows, first-hand, what it’s like to grow a successful business and has a keen understanding of the issues that are pertinent to entrepreneurial clients.