What are digital assets?

Digital assets have been defined as anything that is stored on an electronic device — regardless of the owner of the physical device.
There’s indeed a difference in the location of the assets. On the one hand, there are the ones based in your computer, hard drive, or thumbdrives. On the other hand, there are some which you don’t control, the ones in the cloud. In the two cases, digital asset are anything with an owner that is in a digital file.
Caroll defines five categories : devices and data, emails, online accounts, financial accounts, and online businesses.

These items are more and more interconnected, as for example emails serving as a common keyring to store accounts information, and as a mean to control and regulate your different accounts. Emails are the safety net in the case of loosing a password. Devices are also becoming more and more common, used as a masterkey, and they have their share of keys through the different applications, browsers, identification cookies, ..

Digital Files After Death, What Happens to Your Digital Legacy?

Have You Completed Your Client’s Digital Estate Plan?

I’m sure you are comfortable that your clients’ estate plans are up to date. But have you reviewed your client’s digital estate plan? What is a digital estate plan? It’s a plan for the disposition of all your clients internet accounts once he or she is deceased

Experts have estimated that the average adult with access to the internet has more than 25 internet accounts! In the past, we kept albums full of snapshots, vinyl records and shoeboxes full of correspondence. Now our photos are all on Flickr and IPhoto, our music is downloaded from ITunes and our correspondence is email via Yahoo or Google.

And probably more important than that, a lot of your clients bank and investment accounts may be entirely online.!

And what happens if your client dies? Who has access to these internet accounts? And if they want those accounts taken off the internet how do they do it? You may discover that it is more difficult than you think to access their accounts or erase them from the internet

The family of Ricky Rash, a 15 year old who committed suicide in 2011, discovered how difficult it was to recover information from their deceased son’s internet account. In an effort to understand why he had taken his own life, they requested but were refused access to his Facebook account. Facebook claimed that according to the Stored Communications Act of 1986 – the federal law that governs the protection of a person’s electronic data – even the account of a minor is protected from access by his parents or anyone else.  Other sites and providers interpret the legislation this way, making access all but impossible.

There are only five states that have taken any steps to help recover the internet data of a deceased person—Indiana, Idaho and Oklahoma legislation covers social media and blogging accounts, while Connecticut and Rhode Island legislation covers only email.

What does this mean for your clients? It is critical that they create a digital estate plan.The listing of internet accounts needs to be more comprehensive than I originally recommended. Information must include:

  • the name of the account
  • the contents of the account
  • the URL address
  • username
  • password
  • instructions for the disposition of the account including the person to oversee such disposition.
Digital planning
Digital planning

There is a whole new industry that has been created to service your clients’ digital estate , a new digital estate planning service. Your clients can create an account and then enter their user names, passwords and wishes for each of their digital assets. They can specify an heir for each account; Legacy Locker will provide heirs with information after the account holder’s death is verified.

There are also online memorial services to celebrate your client’s life. These services enable your clients to create their own memorials before they pass away. Facebook and Twitter also offer these services for family members.

The importance of having a digital estate plan will increase as more and more of our assets (and access to assets) are online. Gradually laws will evolve to give family members access to deceased loved ones’ accounts. It is important to prepare your clients for the disposition of their digital assets now so that family members will not be unpleasantly surprised when they attempt to uncover them.

If you want to explore digital estate planning in more detail feel free to wander around.

Is Your Digital Life Ready for Your Death?

A physical locker

If you have more digital assets which you own, you can also consider getting specific hardware designed to protect digital information. A perfect example would be a hard drive using complete encryption — without the proper password, nothing can be retrieved, and your assets are perfectly safe. You just have to be sure that your executor does know where the storage device is, and has all the keys to unlock it. The cons are simple: the locker must be physically accessible, undamaged (when sometimes defects appear over time, rendering your assets inaccessible), and you will have to physically access it to update it.

Clear rules needed for managing digital afterlife

Prepare a will executor

Simple: choose a fiduciary and give him, her or them the proper power of attorney, so that they can manage your belongings.

The choice of a will executor for your digital assets, or your “digital executor”, is a critical step in the planning.  It can be an executor different from your regular will, or someone who is not in charge of your offline estate. Actually, you’d want to select someone who is very comfortable with technology, to be sure that this person will execute your orders and not make any blunder. Apart from this, it could be a good idea to find someone who is geeky enough to understand what you want, and to apply it. Finally, don’t choose someone who is too close from you. If you need to delete some materials, you don’t want your executor to fail on this because it reminds him or her too much of you.

The person in charge may or may not be aware of your choice, you can arrange the name on your will — but the key and lock to the assets will have to be in a separate list, to be sure you can update it regularly, when changing your passwords. And if you open an account for another service? That’s going to be the same. Just open your lists, add the account, save the file and voila!

“If you haven’t made arrangements in advance, those assets are going to pass to your next of kin. Maybe that’s not what you want—maybe you want to spare the spouse the embarrassment or the pain of it to keep your legacy intact.”

Another advantage of selecting only an executor and to have a separate list will enable you not only to manage your accounts, but you will be able to manage the beneficiaries. An access can be revoked only by changing the password of a file, and saving you the trouble of a trip in the attorney’s office.

“If you have an estate-plan document book, devote one page of it to this. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy,” Ms. Hays says. “If you want [an account] to be ongoing or serve as a memorial, you need to make that known to the person you ask to take care of this. Otherwise, they’ll probably just shut it down.”.

A digital executor can be used to prevent any issue around your death. If you own an online store, like an eBay account, an unscrupulous competitor could use your obituary to make your different accounts closed. Emails could be accessed by anyone smart enough, providing a proof of your death.


Finally, a good thing to do is to integrate the name of this digital executor into your “regular” will — to avoid any potential contestation.