The two main classes of digital assets are 1) any online account that requires a username and password; or 2) any file stored in places including an individual’s computer, mobile phone, server, local DVD or CD-ROM, SD card or at online storage sites.
If the client is the only person who has access to her online accounts, then what happens when she dies? Much of the concern involves the rights of the online company, which were granted when the individual initially accepted the account’s Terms of Service (TOS). Several issues to consider for online accounts requiring a username and password include the following:
- The TOS Agreements of most popular online companies rarely, if ever, allow for the immediate or automatic transfer of the account to the personal representative.
- Without access to a decedent’s bank and investment accounts, a trustee or executor will have difficulty obtaining necessary information for meeting the requirements of the underlying will and trust.
- Without access to a decedent’s email, blog or website, the personal representative may not even be aware of certain ongoing obligations, especially with more transactions occurring online only.
Files on an individual’s computer are difficult Digital estate planning enough to find, depending on the individual’s levels of organization or disorganization. The personal representative’s job can become exponentially more difficult if the important data is stored offsite. Additionally, there are two main kinds of digital files to consider:
Client-Created Files – including scanned financial files, address books, and digital photos, but can also include valuable business documents or intellectual property.
Client-Purchased Files – including music, videos and e-books bought during the individual’s lifetime. In the typical TOS, the seller only grants the individual buyer a non-transferable license to use the work “for life.”
Steps You Can Take Now
Make a list of all digital assets. This should be a comprehensive list of all of your online accounts and data files, including email accounts, websites, hard-drives, important Word and Excel documents, online storage accounts, and social media accounts.
List wishes for each asset. For local hardware containing data files, this can include leaving the asset directly to a specified heir. For online accounts, this can include:
- Shutting down the account
- Doing nothing
- Archiving contents on CD or DVD
- Creating an auto-response on the account; and/or
- Forwarding all messages to another place
- Choose the person who will receive each asset
- Provide access and control to the recipient