Did you know on average there are 107 online accounts per registered e-mail address? In two short years, that number is expected to climb to 207.
Can your brain remember 207 login and password combos? I know mine can’t. If you could see any of my five e-mail accounts, you would see that I am constantly forgetting my login details and asking companies to send me passwords.
Logins and password combos are the “keys” to your digital assets. If you can’t remember all of them, think how difficult (or impossible) it would be for your loved ones to figure them out in the event you become incapacitated or die.
What are Digital Assets?
Do you have an e-mail account? Have you set up a website for your business or your blog? Do you buy music from iTunes to listen to on your iPhone? Do you buy books from Amazon to read on your Kindle? Do you have social media accounts? These are all examples of digital assets.
Basically, digital assets are any digital record you own or have control over, including e-mail accounts, blogs, social media accounts, financial accounts, and digital files (music, photos, movies, apps).
Don’t think your digital assets are valuable? A worldwide study done my McAfee showed that on average globally we have over $35,000 worth of assets stored on our devices (personal memories, personal records, career information, hobbies, personal communications, and entertainment files).
Digital assets like photos might not have much value on the open market, but they are irreplaceable and priceless to your family.
What Happens to Digital Assets After you Die?
Assuming (1) the law does not give the person managing or wrapping up your affairs the right to access your accounts, or (2) you did not leave a list of your accounts with user names and passwords and instructions on what you wanted done with them, then your digital assets will continue to exist, and nobody will be able to access, modify, or delete them. Eventually, the companies that manage the accounts will terminate them and the digital assets will be lost.
So how can you make sure your loved ones can get into your accounts and files?
Leave Clear Instructions
This one is simple, easy, and doesn’t require an attorney. Leave instructions and access information for the person who will be managing or wrapping up your affairs.
Make a list of all of your accounts with user names and passwords and instructions on what you want done with each account after you die. Make sure you include passwords to unlock devices such as phones, tablets, and laptops. Leave this letter with your other estate planning documents or in a place where you know it will be found after you become incapacitated or die.
My dad did this for his family. After he died, we found a handwritten list of all of his online accounts with user names and passwords and the passwords for his computer, iPad, and iPhone with other important documents. Pretty savvy for my dad, especially considering that he used to have his secretary print out his e-mails and would dictate to her his replies. If my dad could do this, you can too.
Research the Law and Document Your Wishes
Consult with an estate planning attorney and see what the law regarding digital assets is in your state.
In Texas, we have the new Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which gives trustees, executors, and guardians the ability to access and control digital assets. The control is limited to basic activities such as accessing, making copies, and deleting accounts. If you want to grant the trustee, executor, or guardian more power, such as the ability to update websites, access passwords, or change settings, your estate planning attorney will need to include such power in your estate planning documents.
Check Terms of Service
Check the terms of service of your various accounts and see what they have to say about planning for the incapacity or death of the user.
For example, in Facebook, you can add a “legacy contact” – someone you choose to look after your account. To add a legacy contact, go to your account’s general setting, select “Settings” and click “Manage Account.” Type in a friend’s name and click “Add.” To let your friend know they’re a legacy contact, click “Send.” Families can close or “memorialize” accounts so certain features, like birthday reminders, no longer appear. Families can ask Facebook for access to some of the account’s content (but not private chats).
What About Your iTunes Music and your Kindle Books?
Your iTunes library and the hundreds of books on your Kindle? You don’t actually own them, you have only bought a license to listen and view the products. These accounts are governed by the terms-of-service agreement which you agreed to (or like most people, clicked the box without reading). The license is usually non-transferrable and terminates if you violate the agreement.
So what should you do if you have purchased hundreds of songs or books and you want your heirs to have access to them? So long as the account stays open, anyone with the login credentials can access the materials. If you and your heirs are willing to break the terms of service, instruct your heirs to leave the account open and leave them the login credentials.
What is your most valuable digital asset? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.
Disclaimer: This website is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this website you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.