This week, I uncover everything you need to know including your Digital Assets in your estate plan.
Recent advances in digital technology have made many aspects of our lives exponentially easier and more convenient. But at the same time, digital technology has also created some serious complications when it comes to estate planning. In fact, if you haven’t properly addressed your digital assets in your estate plan, there’s a good chance that most of those assets will be lost forever when you die.
Without the proper estate planning, just locating and accessing your digital assets can be a major headache—or even impossible—for your loved ones following your incapacity or death. And even if your loved ones can access your digital assets, in some cases, doing so may violate privacy laws or the terms of service governing your accounts. Plus, you may also have certain digital assets that you don’t want your loved ones to inherit, so you’ll need to take steps to restrict or limit access to those assets.
Digital assets include a wide array of digital files and records that you have stored in the cloud, on smartphones and mobile devices, or on your computer. When it comes to estate planning, your digital assets will generally fall into two categories: those with financial value and those with sentimental value, which could mean far more to the people you love (and your future generations) than the assets with financial value.
Digital assets with financial value include cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ethereum, online payment accounts like PayPal or Venmo, loyalty program benefits like frequent flyer miles or credit card reward points, domain names, websites and blogs generating revenue, as well as other intellectual property like photos, videos, music, and writing that generate royalties. Such assets have real financial worth for your loved ones, not only in the immediate aftermath of your death or incapacity but potentially for years to come.
Digital assets with sentimental value include email accounts, photos, video, music, publications, social media accounts, apps, and websites or blogs with no revenue potential. This type of property typically won’t be of any monetary value, but it can offer real sentimental value and comfort for your family following your death and inform future generations in ways you may not have considered.
As an example, I cherish an image of one of my ancestors from the 1920s, and I only wish I knew more about him to inform my own understanding of life. Imagine if your future generations can use your digital assets to learn from your experiences as a direct result of how you handle those assets in your estate plan.
What should I know about Digital Assets?
Although you might not know it, you don’t own many of your digital assets at all. For example, you do own assets like cryptocurrency and PayPal accounts, so you can transfer ownership of these items in a will or trust. But when you purchase some digital property, such as Kindle e-books and iTunes music files, all you really own is a license to use it. And in many cases, that license is only for your personal use and is non-transferable.
Whether or not you can transfer this licensed property depends almost entirely on the account’s Terms of Service Agreements (TOSA) to which you agreed (or more likely, simply clicked a box without reading) upon opening the account. While many TOSA restricts access to accounts only to the original user, some allow access by heirs or executors in certain situations, while others say nothing at all about transferability.
Review the TOSA of your online accounts to see whether you own the asset itself or just a license to use it. If the TOSA states the asset is licensed, not owned, and offers no method for transferring your license, you’ll likely have no way to pass the asset to anyone else, even if it’s included in your estate plan.
To make matters even more complicated, though your loved ones may be able to access your digital assets if you’ve provided them with your account login and passwords, doing so may violate the TOSA and/or privacy laws. To legally access such accounts, your heirs will have to prove they have the legal authority to access them, a process which up until recently was a huge legal grey area.
The good news is most states have adopted laws that help clarify how your digital assets can be accessed and disposed of in the event of your death or incapacity.
Contact us today to learn about how you can preserve your legacy by providing your loved ones access to your digital accounts and assets through proper estate planning.
Who Has Access?
Until very recently, there were no laws governing who could access your digital assets in the event of your incapacity or death. As a result, if you died without leaving your loved ones your usernames or passwords, the tech companies who controlled the platforms housing the assets would often delete the accounts or leave them sitting in a state of online limbo, inaccessible to your family and friends.
The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act (UFADAA) allows you to grant a fiduciary access to your digital accounts upon your death or incapacity, either by opting them in with an online tool furnished by the service provider or through your estate plan.
This article is a service of Elena Ortega-Tauler, Family Wealth Lawyer. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.