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Do Digital Assets Matter in Estate Planning?

April 20, 2014

The entire world is becoming more and more digital. Bookstores are closing and libraries going fairly unused thanks to ebooks, CDs are being replaced by MP3s sold online, digital photography has all but replaced traditional film for 99% of people, etc. While this in and of itself generally brings a lot of conveniences, the transition to digital is bringing quite a number of issues along with it as well.

There have been countless stories in the news about digital ownership lawsuits, stories about digital sharing and selling, and most recently, digital currencies.

One of the issues that you don’t hear about too often, though, is what happens to these digital assets when an individual passes away. It is easy to surmise that digital assets can be transferred to heirs just the same as physical ones, but the reality is quite a bit more complex than that.

Many times, someone can give a loved one their login credentials for an account, and will consider the asset transferred, but that is not the case. For many services (including iTunes, Steam, Netflix, Amazon, and many email companies), an account is tied specifically to a named individual, and is non-transferrable. Specifically in the case of purchased digital assets, they are non-transferrable, tradable, or resalable.

For most things, this is not a problem, as music and games can be easily repurchased, but for email accounts, often times sentimentally-important files can be lost forever. Also, for digital photos, if they were uploaded to a website and the original files lost, that website account could be non-transferrable, and your loved ones would not legally be able to get those files back.

Thankfully, there are already several things in place to deal with transferring digital assets to loved ones, which we will cover in a future post.

If you ever have any questions or concerns about estate planning or wills, do not hesitate to get in touch with a skilled attorney.