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Digital assets technology awareness: Adapting to change

Friday, June 19, 2020 @ 12:43 PM | By Sharon Hartung

Sharon Hartung %>
Sharon Hartung
Don’t look now but COVID-19 just added a digital estate to your client’s estate plan.

If your client, as a result of the pandemic, is now using Zoom, ordering groceries, conducting financial transactions online, connecting virtually with their family doctor, or engaging with others via social media to pass the time, they now have a digital estate.

Although digital assets are not new, the estate industry is paying greater attention to them as part of estate planning and administration. Until now, many estate advisers and clients have argued that digital assets were something they only used in the workplace, or wizardry reserved for the younger, tech-savvy generation. Digital assets, in their simplest form, are electronic records understood to be associated with online accounts, and more recognizable as e-mail, social media, loyalty points, travel rewards, crypto assets, digital photos and gaming tokens.

The pandemic has had and will continue to have a transformative impact on every industry participating in the global economy. Every news media outlet has relentlessly and exhaustively reminded us of what could potentially be the “new normal.” From all the articles I’ve read, the only one that truly stuck in my mind was one that mused that no one will likely be kissing the Stanley Cup in the future. If COVID-19 were a person, this “person” would have catapulted to the top of the global social media influencer lists in a matter of days given how the hashtag (#COVID19) has been trending. A feat even the Kardashians would have to marvel at given the time, money and effort that has gone into their curated social media status over the years.

So here we are. Other than essential workers, the majority of us are now working from home, or spending a whole lot more time at home than we normally would have. As we diligently follow jurisdictional public health orders about reducing the spread of the coronavirus, technology has emerged as the saviour; the enabler, or at least the critical glue that drives business continuity and client engagement through this global crisis.

As one might expect, the risk of death or incapacity from COVID-19 has skyrocketed concerns about wills. So much so that Canadian mainstream media has reported an explosion of people getting wills done. In early April in Ontario, the government passed emergency orders allowing lawyers to remotely witness will signings, and it appears that other provinces such as Alberta, Newfoundland, and British Columbia are considering options to accommodate social distancing when dealing with legal document signings. The COVID-19 technical hub has resources by country, including Canada, with a resource chart on COVID-19 amendments by province/territory (signing protocols during COVID-19).

Across the country, it is a mixed and frustrating bag of responses when it comes to the courts’ ability to deal with the myriad of open cases, inquiries and administrative processes, such as probate. Courts across the country have responded in a wide-ranging gamut from complete closure, to reduced or limited access, to the adoption of technology based tools to conduct virtual proceedings, allowing for the electronic submission of documents.

Technology on steroids

Enter technology. The Internet and digitally innovative tools that were traditionally leveraged to improve business processes, expand channels of client engagement, or leapfrog the competition are now the cornerstone of an organization’s operational viability. Technology is the backbone for remote workers and business continuity. And as we will see in the next instalment in this series, it will have big implications for estate planning.

This is part one of a three-part series. Part two: Digital assets technology awareness: Pivoting to new paradigm; part three: Digital assets technology awareness: Opportunities for estate lawyers.

Sharon Hartung,TEP, is the founder and principal of Your Digital Undertaker and has over 30 years of experience in IT management, project management and consulting. She is the author of the newly published Your Digital Undertaker — Exploring Death in the Digital Age in Canada.

Photo credit / mipan ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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