Today, we live so much of our lives online, yet rarely do we think about what will happen to our digital assets once we go to the great social network in the sky. Do you really own all that you seem to buy? Not quite and drafting a digital assets estate plan should be done by everyone.
When you purchase and eBook, song or movie from an online provider as a digital download, you DO NOT OWN the book, tune or flick. You merely pay for a license to use it during your life and you’re not bestowed with the right to assign/give it to anyone else. Surprise! I bet many of you didn’t know that. It’s not the same as back in the days of the Frick Collection or the Rockefeller Library when big collections meant something and were valuable. Digital assets in an estate plan take on a new light.
The files you download to your device will generally remain with your device, some as long as the account remains viable, while other digital assets remain on the device indefinitely. Yet, read the fine print, the terms and conditions of purchase. You can’t pass those digital assets to anyone else. If you give a fully loaded old Kindle to your niece or friend, it’s questionable whether you have the right to do so. Sure, you can give them the physical object of the device itself but you probably don’t have the right to pass its contents to anyone else. It’s not the same as buying a hard cover book and then leaving it to someone.
Therefore, the short answer is that when you die, so does your right to any of these digital assets, meaning that you can’t pass them along in your estate plan. On the other hand, if you owned actual books and discs at your death, you could bequeath those by the truckload.
We live in an electronic age when the only thing that has changed is how we share information. The actual task of drafting an estate plan to include your digital assets is still the same as traditional assets and as painful for most people who shudder at facing their own mortality.
“Protecting Your Digital Assets after You’re Gone,” Attorney Lisa Fantino on NBC 4 New York
So, what do you do with your cyberlife, social connections, photos and more? We’ll tackle that next week.