Increasingly, many of our important personal and business assets are digital and stored online, including our music, photographs, email, and business identities.
But what happens to your digital property when you die? For example, who owns your digital photos, your character in an online video game, or your MP3 collection? What happens to your Facebook page when you’re gone? Because of the value of these assets, these are important questions that must be considered when you tackle modern estate planning.
This is especially true because digital and online property transfers are less straight-forward than physical property gifts. Because of their very nature, digital assets present unique issues specifically because they aren’t easily accessible or easily identifiable.
1. Determine what can be transferred
Ownership of digital property can be less cut-and-dry than ownership of physical property. For example, sometimes when you “purchase” digital property, you’re really purchasing a license to use that product or service. That may be true of the digital media you purchase, the email and social media accounts you use, the software on your computer, and other online accounts, products, and services. Some accounts and media cannot be transferred, while others belong to you outright and may be transferred. So how do you know? You’ll need to evaluate the terms of service for each service you use.
2. Create a road map of your digital assets
Typically, it’s easy to identify the physical items that are part of your estate. Your heirs will be able to easily locate your car, your home, and much of your physical property. Many of your possessions will be clearly identified in your will, and many others are kept in your home. Digital assets aren’t always as easy to locate and many people fail to specifically identify them in their will.
For this reason it’s important to create a “digital asset trust” document detailing each of your digital assets such as your social media accounts, digital media such as music and movies, and any other assets which you may want to pass on. Although you can include this information in your will, it’s likely that you may need to update this information regularly as you acquire new accounts and assets. That’s where a digital asset trust comes in handy.
3. Choose a digital executor
One of the most important decisions you’ll make when creating a will is who to select as your executor. You may choose to appoint the same executor for your physical and digital property. However, there may be reasons to select a different person to act as your digital executor. For example, if the person acting as the executor for your estate is computer illiterate, you may prefer to select someone who is tech savvy to act as your digital executor. In this case, you should specifically identify who will act as your digital executor in your digital asset trust document.
4. Keep an ongoing list of your passwords for your accounts
It’s not enough to simply identify your digital assets and your digital executor. The person you select will need to know how to access those accounts and assets. This means you need to create an up-to-date list of passwords and access codes for all of your social media accounts. Because this list is likely to change regularly, you’ll need to be able to easily access this list in order update it when you change passwords or create new accounts. Because of the sensitive nature of your passwords, you’ll want to keep that list secure. Nonetheless, you’ll also want to make sure your digital executor knows how to locate that list when the time comes.
5. Decide what you want done with various accounts/assets
The goal of creating your digital asset trust is to specify what you want done with your accounts and who you want to give specific digital assets to. For example, do you want your Facebook page to remain public after your death or would you like it to be shut down? Would you like your family to have access to your email account or would you like your email to remain private? A digital asset trust can specify who has access to which accounts and what you’d like to be done with specific assets.
Existing estate planning laws aren’t always well suited to handle digital assets. Federal and state laws regarding the transfer of digital assets are still in their infancy. As a result, it’s especially important that you take the time to create a thoughtful digital estate plan to specify how you’d like your digital assets to be handled upon your death.
You can find out more about estate planning here.
- No More Excuses: April is Make a Will Month(rocketlawyer.com)
- Digital Executor: Who Will Tweet When You’re Gone? (rocketlawyer.com)
- How To Stop Fretting and Start Writing Your Will (rocketlawyer.com)