In the last post we explored what digital assets are and how important they are in day to day life. If you would like a refresher you can view that blog post here.
Now that we know what digital assets are, how is management of digital assets different than the management of the account? An account is just a shell to house content. It is not necessarily the account that is valuable—it is the content within the account that may be worth having and planning for.
In the example where email is the hub of all online account activity, the actual account is a compilation of information needed in order to operate different aspects of our finances, volunteer activities, work, friends, relatives, clubs and organizations, travel, online purchasing, banking etc. It is the actual emails are digital assets that hold value to us.
The following are issues in planning for digital assets as identified by Evan Carroll with website The Digital Beyond.
- Awareness—Do heirs know about the digital account and how to find it?
- Access—Do heirs have the appropriate credentials or means to access the account?
- Ownership—Who owns the data inside accounts?
- Rights—Do heirs have the right to take control of or access the account?
Different rules surround how accounts and the digital assets within them are treated upon death. Consideration should be given to the laws in your state, the terms of service that govern each account (and what state they are governed by), what is desired as far as an estate plan and the solutions available to ensure these assets pass in the best most efficient way possible.
Difficulties that come up:
- Legally the basic rights of privacy expire at death.
- Laws on estate planning for digital assets vary from state to state. There is no uniform treatment of these assets upon death.
- As a relatively new planning topic, many states including Texas have NO laws on the treatment of digital assets upon death. As of April, less than half of the states have laws (or proposed laws) in place for the management of digital assets. –Evan Carroll, The Digital Beyond
- The laws in your state may differ from the laws that govern the terms of service for accounts. Which laws prevail?
Once again I’ve presented several ideas to get the wheels spinning. Stay tuned for the next blog which will explore options to help address some of the issues introduced today.