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Digital assets virtually disappear when user passes away

When a loved one dies, families and friends are often confronted with handling the assets and properties that were left. But more and more, many of these assets are in digital form. As it stands, the law is way behind in dealing with the distribution and ownership issues that come up with digital assets. More often than not, heirs and beneficiaries in Orlando end up losing entire collections of books and music when a lived one dies.

People spend, on average, about $360 every year on music and books that are downloaded from companies like Apple and Amazon. Typically, a person will purchase an eBook or album onto their computer and assume they then own that item. So why wouldn't they be able to simply divide these assets among their heirs?

The problem is in the language used by these types of companies. They note that purchasing a digital product does not mean that a person actually owns that song or book. Instead, the user has only purchased the rights to access the files. This small but very important distinction means that when people pass away, it is very likely that their entire library of songs and books goes away as well since they can't give away something they do not own.

This can be very upsetting for loved ones of those who have accumulated a vast and pricey collection of books and music. If these same items were in physical form it is likely that they would be worth a significant amount of money, and it would be no trouble to divide books and records appropriately.

Until the law catches up with the reality of a technologically-driven society, people can still find ways to hold on to music or literary collections. While there are software solutions available that store passwords and account information, easier solutions exist as well. For example, with password and account information, you can simply access the items with a loved one's device.

In the future, there may be ways of legally and formally assigning digital assets to heirs and beneficiaries. Until then, however, it may be helpful to speak with an attorney who can help a person develop an estate plan that includes stipulations for digital files.

Source: MarketWatch, "Who inherits your iTunes library?" Quentin Fottrell, Aug. 23, 2012

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