When planning for the disposition of their estates, people usually account for their homes, art, vehicles, jewelry and other physical items as well as bank accounts set up at brick and mortar locations. However, digital assets such as e-books, songs in digital libraries like iTunes, and even money held in online-only accounts are often forgotten. These assets are like any other in that a determination must to be made as to how they will be disposed of.
The first step to digital estate planning is to take an inventory. Digital items should be written down and cataloged in the same way as physical assets, with the inclusion of password information. The next step is to leave instructions for what to do with the assets. This could include everything from asking that social media accounts be deleted to stating who gets an e-book library.
A necessary step in the management of digital assets is to check the terms and conditions of online accounts and services. Many of them now have policies for what to do with accounts in the event of the owner’s death. As an example, Facebook will delete an account or keep it as a memorial once it receives proof of death and an indication of the relationship between the deceased account holder and the person making the request. People may also wish to designate a special digital executor to carry out the wishes regarding these assets, if the existing executor lacks the requisite computer knowledge.
While the policies of some online providers may conflict with these written instructions, they will certainly be of use if future action is necessary. An estate planning attorney may be able to assist a client with a digital portfolio of assets by creating documents that would help preserve and protect these assets for ultimate distribution.
Source: Market Watch, “Who gets your digital fortune when you die?“, Andrea Coombes, January 10, 2014