So, you are not an early adopter. You do not care about the latest iteration of you-name-it software – or the trendiest internet craze – or the most recent must-have technology. How important can a discussion about protecting your digital assets be?
Yet, when you stop and think about it, you use a cell phone of some kind, perhaps even a smart phone. You have one or more email accounts. You’ve tried to “go green” on some of your routine bills and now receive bills electronically, and pay them the same way. While you eschew Facebook, you nonetheless set up an Ebay or CraigsList account to get rid of that stuff piling up in your garage.
Recently, to share photos with you family and friends, you even succumbed to setting up a DropBox or ShutterFly account. And, like most people, you have a variety of financial accounts (bank accounts, brokerage accounts, 401k accounts, IRAs, etc) all of which at one time or another requested or required you to set up on-line access or security measures. Perhaps you even aggregate some or all of these accounts on your computer through a Quicken program.
Well, despite your reluctance, you have been dragged into the digital age and need to be prudent in managing these assets. Here are a few thoughts:
Define – Essentially, a digital asset is anything you access on your computer, or on line, that you attach value to (whether that value be financial or sentimental). Think of this in the broadest terms possible.
• Social networking sites
• On-line bank account access
• On-line brokerage account access
• On-line retirement account access
• Email accounts
• Web pages/sites
• Domain names
• File sharing accounts (i.e. DropBox, ShutterFly, etc)
• Career networking sites (i.e. LinkedIn)
• Cyper-shopping accounts (i.e. Ebay, CraigsList, Amazon, etc.)
• File storage sites
• On-line subscriptions
• Frequent flyer accounts
• Files on your computer
• Electronically stored photos and videos
Organize – Make a list of your digital assets, along with how to access same. You will want to store this with your other important papers. You may also want to create a “vault” to store your username and passwords in. There are several companies that securely store your digital asset information, and may even provide some legacy instructions.
Plan – You should consider incorporating the transfer of your digital assets into your estate planning. At a minimum, the intended beneficiary of these assets will need to be set forth in the will and the person in charge of carrying out your wishes should be named. However, the manner in which you access these items should NOT be put in the will because a will becomes publicly accessible if it is probated. Do not forget to consider the “terms of service” agreements you are bound to and how these may conflict with your wishes. After your passing, the personal representative of your estate should be cognizant of state and/or federal laws regarding access to your electronically stored data. Finally, you should speak to an estate planning attorney.
Review – Laws regarding digital assets are in their infancy, and are changing rapidly. Currently, only a handful of states have laws regarding digital assets on the books, but several more have bills in progress, and the trend is accelerating. Yet, these laws are also so new that they have not been tested. As a result, the law in this area is not settled. This means that you will periodically need to review what you have set up in order to ensure that your wishes are carried out as closely as possible.
There is no denying the digital revolution. Our digital footprints will only get larger with each passing year. Take time to get your digits in order.