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Planning for Digital Assets in Pennsylvania

Traditional estate planning has addressed how a person might leave their assets to their family and friends after their death. "My children are to receive my property but my best friend will get my dog, Daisy, and all things associated with her" a client might say. But with advancements in technology, who receives the right to access the pictures of Daisy which are stored online in the client's cloud? That result has not been are clear as advancements in technology have outpaced advancements in the law.

Pennsylvania is examining legislation that may provide some answers this question. Senate Bill 827, known as the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, was passed unanimously in the Pennsylvania Senate on January 22, 2019. If adopted, the Act will give Pennsylvanians the power to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets in the same way they are able to make plans for tangible property through a last will and testament, a trust, and a power of attorney.

Senate Bill 827, sponsored by Senator Tom Killion (R-9th), was the product of several stakeholder meetings that took place over the course of the past year, which included numerous individuals and interests. Some of these stakeholders included the Uniform Law Commission and its Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Committee; the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Bar's Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section; the Pennsylvania Bankers Association; the Joint State Government Commission; Apple; Google; NetChoice; Amazon; and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. Quinn Law Firm Attorney Colleen R. Stumpf participated in these discussions as part of her role as a Council Member of the Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in 2018, bills related to digital assets/electronic assets were introduced in at least 15 states and Washington, D.C., while legislation was enacted in at least four states. Pennsylvania joins these numbers in 2019 as Senate Bill 827 is now in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for consideration.

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