Digital Assets

Digital Assets and Death

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Death is emotionally difficult enough without discovering that you have no idea what digital a person had or what they wanted done with them.

A growing concern among those wishing to properly manage their is “,” which questions what is an asset or special relationship—and how to balance privacy and security with passing on relevant information. A recent Smart Company article, titled The business of digital life and death,” reports that 70% of 65-74 year-old Americans are on , and there are 30 million accounts that belong to individuals no longer alive. The article cites several factors in dealing with . For example, there are no international standards on or for how to address them via .

Again, has not been a burning issue in estate planning as of yet; however, as younger generations start to look at planning for the future, it will become more relevant as it will be more common and because the legal treatment of digital assets after death is clearly defined.

It seems every social media platform has a different approach to dealing with the death of one of its users. Facebook protects the privacy of the deceased by securing the account and permitting a family member to request the account be removed or memorialized.

In an attempt to balance sharing and privacy, Facebook has introduced a Look Back feature that can create a video of favorite moments that people are able to view but not share. The original article notes that is open to dealing with an immediate family member or estate representative to deactivate an account. developed an inactive account manager. This gives an individual access to your account if you die. In addition, it allows you set up a deadline in the event that you do not use your account for a period of time. will then notify and allow the person you have named to access select parts of your account.

In an attempt to prevent illicit use of real accounts, are typically moving to policies that validate family members with certified copies of death certificates, so that a loved one can account for those assets and close the account. Despite clear instructions and policies about digital closure, the original article warns that it can be a laborious task. Work with your estate planning attorney to get the most up-to-date information on digital assets and how to coordinate them with your estate planning documents.


Death is emotionally difficult enough without discovering that you have no idea what digital assets a person had or what they wanted done with them.

A growing concern among those wishing to properly manage their digital estate is "digital death," which questions what is an asset or special relationship—and how to balance privacy and security with passing on relevant information. A recent Smart Company article, titled "The business of digital life and death," reports that 70% of 65-74 year-old Americans are on Facebook, and there are 30 million accounts that belong to individuals no longer alive. The article cites several factors in dealing with digital assets. For example, there are no international standards on digital assets or for how to address them via estate planning.

Again, social media has not been a burning issue in estate planning as of yet; however, as younger generations start to look at planning for the future, it will become more relevant as it will be more common and because the legal treatment of digital assets after death is clearly defined.

It seems every social media platform has a different approach to dealing with the death of one of its users. Facebook protects the privacy of the deceased by securing the account and permitting a family member to request the account be removed or memorialized.

In an attempt to balance sharing and privacy, Facebook has introduced a Look Back feature that can create a video of favorite moments that people are able to view but not share. The original article notes that Twitter is open to dealing with an immediate family member or estate representative to deactivate an account. Google developed an inactive account manager. This gives an individual access to your Google account if you die. In addition, it allows you set up a deadline in the event that you do not use your Google account for a period of time. Google will then notify and allow the person you have named to access select parts of your account.

In an attempt to prevent illicit use of real accounts, social media platforms are typically moving to policies that validate family members with certified copies of death certificates, so that a loved one can account for those assets and close the account. Despite clear instructions and policies about digital closure, the original article warns that it can be a laborious task. Work with your estate planning attorney to get the most up-to-date information on digital assets and how to coordinate them with your estate planning documents.

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Reference: Smart Company (August 27, 2014) "The business of digital life and death"

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Estate planners say few, if any, of their clients consider digital assets in their wills—an oversight that can result in real-world losses to beneficiaries. And experts say the estate-planning industry itself has been slow to adopt standards for dealing with the sort of "property" that may exist only in cyberspace.

The digital revolution has meant that we don’t live like we used to – most of us can’t live outside of a Wi-Fi hotspot, 4G network, or computer screen for longer than a couple hours. So how could we possibly plan for our estate today, as they used to before everything became virtual?

Dealing with digital assets can be a tricky business, often in ways that aren’t readily apparent. Nevertheless, digital assets are both vital and newsworthy topics for estate planning. For example, consider an article by SmartMoney titled “Protecting You Virtual Estate” and the similar article by The Wall Street Journal titled “With Estate Planning, Don’t Forget Virtual Assets.” Both are worthy of your attention.

Digital assets can range from personal data held in social websites to intellectual property, or even domain names. Then again and more importantly, a growing majority of people do their banking, investing, and tax-paying online. Is this starting to hit closer to home now?

Some aspects of our digital lives simply need real world planning, especially because few states have laws in place to account for the postmortem transfer of digital assets. Even if you’re not a tech guru with websites and special online projects, you wouldn’t want valuable information to be lost to your heirs.

If you have a digital presence, then you must plan accordingly.

For information on elder law and estate planning issues, please visit our website and/or sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter.

Or view our estate planning video below video 

Reference:

SmartMoney (July 25, 2012), “Protecting You Virtual Estate

The Wall Street Journal (July 28, 2012) “With Estate Planning, Don’t Forget Virtual Assets.


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