Estate Planning: Protecting Digital Assets

When you die, what will happen to the songs you downloaded on iTunes? Will your Facebook account stay floating in cyberspace long after you’re gone?

As our society becomes more technologically advanced, each one of us is slowly accumulating digital assets. For some, the value of these digital assets can be in the tens of thousands, thus, more people are beginning to incorporate them into their estate planning.

How much are your digital assets worth?

A 2013 McAfee study found that most people have around $35,000 dollars’ worth of digital assets in the form of purchased books, movies, games, photos, communications, ancestral data, and other information.

The study found that 55 percent of the respondents believed it would be impossible for them to recreate, re-download or repurchase their digital assets.

Despite the widespread popularity of digital assets, it’s too easy for them to be lost once the account owner passes away. Due to complicated terms of service agreements, it can be nearly impossible for the decedent’s surviving family members to gain access them.

Additionally, there are state and privacy and federal anti-hacking laws that put friends and family at risk of criminal prosecution if they try to access them.

Until we have better laws that make it easier for heirs to access digital assets, it’s best to incorporate detailed directions regarding your digital assets in your estate plan, and here’s how:

  • Speak to your estate planning attorney about how to protect your digital assets.
  • On an annual basis, make an updated list of all of your online subscriptions and accounts.
  • Keep an old-fashioned hard copy list of all of your passwords and keep it in a safe place, such as your home filing cabinet or a safety deposit box. Make sure that your executor, trustee and attorney know where to find this list.
  • In your durable power of attorney, make sure that it provides specific instructions that authorizes someone, such as your spouse to handle all of your digital assets, as well as online accounts.

To make sure that you’ve covered all of your bases, be sure to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. Scroll through our directory to find one near you.