When you begin creating an estate plan, you likely focus on things such as any real estate, money and other tangible assets you have. While this is important, in today’s digital age, it’s not all you should be focused on.
What will happen to your social media accounts once you pass away? What about all the photos you shared on social media, the texts you sent to loved ones and other documents stored on the cloud? Between the years of 2012 and 2014 alone, people around the world produced more data than what was produced by all of human civilization prior to 2012 – the pace has only increased since then.
While it isn’t clear what your digital presence is going to look like in the future, more and more people are going to be collecting and creating huge amounts of data until they pass away – but then what happens?
The law is concise and clear regarding how to handle paper documents along with other physical property when someone passes away. However, there are few regulations and laws in place regarding what happens with your digital assets.
What Exactly are Digital Assets?
Digital assets are any digital files and online accounts you own and have on your computer, tablet, phone, other electronic device, or in the cloud. Some examples of digital assets include:
- Copyright licenses
- Software licenses
- Online financial accounts
- Email accounts
- Digital photos
- Social media accounts
There are other types of these assets as well, that all have to be planned for.
Passing Digital Assets Through Your Will
A general rule that is used and accepted is that all the digital assets you own and that are transferrable can be included in your estate when you pass away. You can dictate in your will who will receive these digital assets. While transferable digital assets include anything that is worth money, they also include things that may have more sentimental value.
The bottom line is – if you own it and it can be transferred, you need to include it in your will.
Some examples of things to include in your will are:
- Funds that are owed to you through online store sites, such as Etsy or Amazon
- Funds in your PayPal (or similar) account
- Frequent flyer miles (this depends on the issuing company’s policy)
- Digital photos or music that you own
If you fail to name someone as a beneficiary for these items, then they will automatically pass on to your residuary beneficiary or beneficiaries.
What Can’t be Passed Through Your Will?
While there are several things that can be transferred via your will, there are items that can’t, as well. Some of the digital assets that cannot be passed through your will include:
- Social media and email accounts
- Subscription accounts
- Licensed, non-transferable domains
- Apps on your tablet or phone
However, several companies – like Google and Facebook – have internal features where you can identify a custodian to manage your account on your behalf when you pass away. And that just further goes to show the importance of addressing your digital assets in your estate planning endeavors.