I just finished two very long and intensive days of legal continuing education. This always jump starts that legal part of my brain.
One of the topics in the two-day legal fest is always estate planning. So, I come home from Day One and find the current issue of MORE magazine has arrived and has a very timely article on “digital estate plans.”
Fate? Karma? Obviously, the universe is trying to tell me something.
To be honest – I never thought about my digital assets and what would happen after I’m gone. And I should have. Lawyers worry about shit like that.
So, since I needed a blog topic and since you, like me, are hooked into the Internet world, I’m sharing what I have learned and plan to put into effect in my own estate plan.
All of us who are tied into the technology of the Internet have digital assets. Many of them have monetary value — We paid money for them (or in the case of gaming powers and the like, we won or traded for them). They are ours. They would be classified as intangible assets, meaning they can’t be held, touched, handed over.
The obvious digital assets are things such as:
1. Your iTunes collection;
2. Your e-books;
3. Bit coins (possibly can become tangible if it can be converted into actual currency);
4. Video game lives/ weapons/powers that I am told have value to other gamers;
5. Your PayPal account (though it can be transferred to your bank and changed out into currency and thus become tangible).
6. And others with monetary value of which I have no knowledge or are yet to come.
Those above have monetary value — worth cash money to you and me and others (including the IRS if they only thought about it).
The article in More magazine written by Laura Sinberg, citing a McAfee survey of Americans, states that many Americans value their digital assets at upwards of $55,000. Um, wow! Personally, I think that is high, but then I look at my e-books and iTunes and those alone could be up to $4,000 to replace.
Besides assets with monetary value, there are also personal assets that mean something to you such as photos on the Cloud, your Facebook pages, your blog posts, and the like.
Another crucial aspect of your digital estate is your whole Internet footprint — FaceBook, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, Amazon account, EBay account, on-line shopping accounts, and the like. This means someone, your estate’s personal representative or someone else you appoint in your Will to specifically handle the digital matters, needs to have a list of all your on-line accounts with user names and passwords so they can close them down.
Just as your personal representative closes out/cancels bank accounts, social security numbers, PO Boxes, insurance on your car and home, magazine subscriptions, club memberships and the like, someone needs to cancel all of your on-line presence, if for no other reason so as not to allow anyone to use your name or accounts fraudulently – to prevent identify theft.
So, what do you do?
1. Make an inventory.
You should already have one for all your tangible assets and have it in a place known by your family and your personal representative or lawyer.
Make sure that you store the user names and passwords in a safe place. Do not put the passwords/user names in the Will — Wills become public records once filed with the court. I’d put the password/user name list in a bank lock box along with a copy of the inventory and the original Will (I keep a copy of the signed Will in my home for immediate access).
That’s three (3) separate documents stored in a safe place only accessible by you and after your death your personal representative.
2. Make sure you have a digital personal representative appointed in your Will.
If you don’t have a Will, make one. In my case, my son would be both my regular personal representative and my digital personal rep. He is tech savvy and has an accounting major – so I’m okay with him handling it all.
3. Make sure in your Will that you tell your digital personal representative what you wish done with your digital assets.
For example, “I leave my family photos on the Cloud to my son.” “I leave my e-book collection to my best friend, Jane Doe.” “I wish the value of my PayPal account to be donated to the American Cancer Society in my name.” “I wish my digital personal representative to close out all my online accounts of any kind per the inventory I have left with the Will.”
By the way, the laws have not caught up with technology — a refrain often heard in my law update over the last two days — so you have to protect yourself as clearly as you can. It may not even be possible to transfer title in some of the intangible assets — thus your personal representative might have to deal with iTunes or Amazon policies on your music and book libraries. But one thing I do know — if you put something in a Will, and the Will is legally executed, and what you have asked to have done is not against a crucial public policy or a danger to anyone, the Probate Court will order your wishes to be carried out, if at all feasible. Your Will is the last chance to speak for you and the only chance to delegate the authority to handle such matters for you when you are gone.
So, it is CYA time, my friends – take control of your digital assets’ future. I plan on revising my will to incorporate my digital assets (and my intellectual property).