Disposition of Your Digital Assets
If you haven’t given any thought to the disposition of your digital assets, you may want to put that as a priority on your To-Do list. Most people probably need to update their existing Will, Trust and/or Power of Attorney with language allowing their agent or executor access to modify, delete, control, sell, transfer or otherwise manage their digital assets.
You may have read or heard horror stories about the widow or widower not being able to access the family’s bank account to pay bills due or access funds because they did not have their loved one’s user name and password, or not being able to close out or freeze social media accounts after someone’s death.
Wikipedia defines a digital asset as anything that exists in a binary format (meaning 1s and 0s) and comes with a right to use. Digital assets that do not possess a right to use are not considered assets.
Digital assets include but are not limited to digital documents, audio and video files, motion pictures, and other relevant digital data that are currently in circulation which can be stored on digital devices such as personal computers, laptops, portable media players, tablets, storage devices, telecommunication devices, or other devices which are or may yet be in existence, able to carry digital assets.
Another and very similar definition of a digital asset can be found in Techopedia which uses the following definition: Any text or media that is formatted into a binary source and includes the right to use it. Digital files that do not include this right are not considered digital assets. Furthermore, digital assets are files that continue to exist as technology progresses regardless of the device where the digital asset is stored or created.
Digital assets include online social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and online email accounts such as Gmail, Hotmail, AOL or Yahoo Mail. Think of it this way, any online account that is protected by needing a user name and password to access can be considered a “digital asset”.
The State of California passed legislation which became effective January 1, 2017, establishing a three-part hierarchy for determining whether someone may access a decedent’s online accounts. Under this legislation, digital assets are defined as the communications and information contained in a person’s social media accounts, blogs, e-mail accounts and websites. In the past, these types of assets have generally not been included in estate plans or in a last will and testament. About 20 other states have enacted versions of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.
If you do nothing else, at least give a trusted loved one access to your user names and passwords for your financial and personal online accounts, and keep it updated as passwords change and accounts are added or deleted.
NOTE THAT THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY. ALWAYS CONSULT AN ATTORNEY OR OTHER KNOWLEDGEABLE PROFESSIONAL.