Document your digital assets. Imagine you have a nearly $1 billion empire of music, movies, and royalties. Sound good? Now imagine you have no will, aren’t in a committed relationship, and have no children. Where and how do you begin to decide what should happen to your empire? Prince’s untimely death in 2016, and his lack of estate planning, brought to mind that the more we have, the more we have to plan for it.
Celebrities’ attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors try to keep up with constant changes to their clients’ property, especially when it comes to protecting intellectual property like music and videos. The longer a celebrity waits to address an ever-growing empire, the harder the decisions are to make for everyone involved. They find it’s better to address changes as they happen, even it means more frequent revisions.
Back in the Real World
So what does this have to do with little ol’ you? While you may not feel as though you have a digital empire, your online life might be more complicated than you think. It’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords.
For example, an attorney had a father-in-law who ran 3 businesses from his Blackberry. When he died suddenly in 2011, she was shocked at how difficult it was to access his emails, accounts, and online life. Every online provider had different requirements. This was her introduction to the concept of the “digital asset,” and, as a result, she became an expert in that niche.
Keeping track of digital assets can be overwhelming, but you can begin with 4 main types – personal, financial, business, and social:
Digital Personal Assets
Photos, Movies, Books, E-books, Music, and Podcasts. Unlike your Simon and Garfunkel records, Michael Jackson CD’s, or Rocky DVDs that the kids will get whether they want them or not, there are some e-libraries you can’t leave to anyone. For example, access to Kindle and iTunes libraries die with their owners. For all your photos and videos stored in the cloud, make sure you have a backup, especially if it’s iCloud. Upon proof of death, all content in an iCloud account is deleted.
Digital Financial Assets
Bank, Brokerage, PayPal, Frequent Flyer, Bitcoin, etc. Did you sign up for paperless statements? Good for you, but make sure you have documented somewhere that the accounts exist. If no one can get into your email, and you haven’t kept good notes or a plan somewhere, they may not know you opened a new Treasury Direct account or I-bonds account.
Digital Business Assets
Blogs, E-books, Books, E-commerce sites. Intellectual property is often housed digitally. Have you inventoried any copyrighted works and addressed them in your estate planning documents? Can someone get to them in a way that will continue to produce revenue or royalties?
Digital Social Accounts
Email, Text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.. An elderly friend of mine passed away 6 years ago but his face and profile still pop up occasionally as someone “I might know” on my Facebook and LinkedIn. I am guessing his family either aren’t involved with social media, or simply were not able to log in and post a nice memorial tribute to a wonderful man. What do you want your online presence to look like, if at all, and for how long, once you’re gone?
With all of these different accounts, it seems like you might need a digital asset will and executor. It turns out there are such roles now, and 47 states, including Florida, have ratified them through passage of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA). (You can read all about it here: https://my.uniformlaws.org/committees/community-home/librarydocuments?communitykey=f7237fc4-74c2-4728-81c6-b39a91ecdf22&tab=librarydocuments). In the act, you can name a digital executor – someone to access your email, text messages, and social media accounts, in your will or trust.
Take a Few Minutes
Take a few minutes to consider how easy, or not, it will be for someone to take over for you. If you aren’t the paper notebook type, or just ready to reduce paper, check out either The Beneficiary Book at Amazon, or www.everplans.com.
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