Over the course of the last decade, individuals have seen the growing importance of and reliance upon digital assets. These are intangible assets that exist in an online environment or computer hard drive. Digital assets can include anything from online movie collections and social media pages to a digital storefront and online shopper rewards. More and more people are including their digital assets when developing an estate plan. Unfortunately, there are obstacles to keep in mind.
As laws surrounding the use and transfer of digital assets continue to evolve, it is wise to remember four obstacles that might impede your surviving loved one’s access:
- Passwords and encryption: It’s not enough to leave your eBay account to your nephew in your will. You must also note passwords, privacy features and the answers to any security questions that might be tied to the account.
- Criminal laws: There are numerous laws in place concerning digital privacy that could limit the ability of an individual to access someone else’s accounts – inherited or otherwise. It is wise to explain in detail which digital assets are being bequeathed to which heirs to counter any legal issues.
- Incomplete inventory: It is wise to list all assets rather than making a sweeping statement such as “all digital movies.” Be careful to itemize where the collection of movies, books and music is housed and who each one is being given to.
- Clear ownership: With the evolving legal issues surrounding various digital assets, it is important to include clear language allowing the heir to relocate the asset, change passwords or other revisions. With this express approval included, it can alleviate potential roadblocks.
Individuals develop a strong, comprehensive estate plan to clearly state their wishes and to help their surviving loved ones avoid unnecessary battles over assets. The peace of mind provided by an estate plan, however, can be undermined by unexpected complexities or legal challenges centered on digital assets. It is wise to work with an experienced attorney who can provide the guidance you need through the process.