Who Will Inherit Your Digital Assets?
As we become more ingrained in the technical age, we are more dependent on our digital commodities. In 2012 alone, consumers spent more than $4 billion for electronic media; items they will only “virtually” use.
So, is it worth it to try to feng shui your life and de-clutter your household by putting everything into electronic and digital form instead of keeping hard copies of things like books, CD’s (what about 8-tracks?), photographs, board games, and letters?
In the days of “ole” (way back about 20 years ago), when somebody passed away, their belongings were left to their heirs. After the dust settled on the grave, and the legalities of probate had long been settled, an heir could physically pick up their inheritance and go on their merry way.
Family treasures such as personal photographs, books, and letters, would be dispersed by an oldest child or well-meaning aunt or other loved one.
However, those days are gone; in the digital days of today, many of us use Flickr, Instagram, and SmugMug to store our precious family photos. We use Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo to write our most personal love letters and hate mail. We use Kindle and iBook instead of purchasing paperbacks and new releases at brick and mortar stores. Instead of sitting around the family dining room table playing board games and eating popcorn, we sit alone at our computers and play EverQuest, World of Warcraft and BigFishGames. Many families no longer peruse a library of DVD’s to determine what to watch on a Saturday night, they view digital media they have purchased the rights to view. Music is completely changed, instead of records, cassettes, or DVD’s, we stream purchased music through iTunes and MP3 players.
At first glance, it is easy enough to wonder, what does this have to do with me; then it slowly starts to sink in. When you die, all of the purchases you have made, all of the accounts that you created are linked only to you, not your family, and not your heirs.
Your spouse, your children, your family, they will all have no rights when it comes to any of the “digital assets” you own.
This is just another dilemma in an evolving world; as we grow in different areas, we begin to face the legalities of our ever-changing lives.
(Chart below from Time Magazines – Here to E-Ternity)
|DIVIDING YOUR DIGITAL ASSETS||E-Books||Music||Gaming||Photos|
|Accounts and Assets||Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iBooks||Apple’s iTunes, Amazon MP3||EverQuest, FarmVille, World of Warcraft||Flickr, Instagram, SmugMug|
|Why You Should Care||One in every four books sold in the US is an e-book||Boxes of treasured records have given way to folders of digital files. Some $7.5 billion was spent at the iTunes store in Apple’s 2012 fiscal year, much of it on music.||The games might be virtual, but the money spent on them is not: a virtual sword used in role-playing game Age of Wulin sold for $16,000.||The family photo album is now digital files arranged by clickable tags. Flikr stores more than 6 billion pictures, and over 5 million photos are uploaded to Instagram daily.|
|What the Rules Are||Amazon says Kindle books can be willed. But e-books are often licensed, not sold, so the legality of transferring them remains murky.||Apple says, “We do not have a policy to will or inherit an iTunes collection.||Many gaming companies prohibit avatar sales and consider accounts nontransferable.||Yahoo, which owns Flickr, says users can transfer accounts if they leave consent and their password. Without those, survivors can ask only for the contents of an account to be deleted.|
|What You Can Do||Lawyers say leaving someone the physical device your e-books are on is a surer bet than relying on account access.||Buying music that is free or digital-rights management, a security technology that restricts use, will prevent some red tape.||Outline your wishes in a will; Sony Online Entertainment, for one, says it will try to fulfill players’ requests if provided proper paperwork.||Order prints! And keep backups on a hard drive or other device.|
|Will It Change?||Maybe. E-book terms are decided by sellers and publishers. Pressure for clarity will likely mount as the value of our virtual collections grows.||Maybe. Lawyers say court cases could define the lines of ownership and the user’s ability to bequeath music.||Maybe. As gamers age and build valuable accounts, companies will encounter the upon-death question.||Maybe. If state laws make it easier for survivors to access e-mail and social-media accounts, online photo sites could follow suit.|
|DIVIDING YOUR DIGITAL ASSETS||Movies & TV||Social Media||Domains|
|Accounts and Assets||Walmart’s Vudu, Apple’s iTunes, Amazon Instant Video||Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail||Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn||YourNameHere.com|
|Why You Should Care||Streaming and downloads have made DVDs all but obsolete. US shoppers spent $330 million buying (not renting) digital films and TV shows in the first half of 2012.||At least 70% of Americans use e-mail. The contents of our accounts are crucial for our work and personal lives and are potentially important for caretaker or executor of our estates.||Facebook has more than 1 billion users, Twitter 200 million. Social media can be part of our legacies and popular accounts may have financial value.||Most have personal value for their creators, and some can yield big money. Coveted domains, like Sex.com, have sold for upwards of $10 million.|
|What the Rules Are||Vudu, which sells content, and provides access to films converted from DVDs, doesn’t allow transfer to heirs, but the company says it’s looking into it.||Providers are loath to reveal passwords. In rare cases Google will share a deceases user’s e-mail. Unless you have a legal consent and the password, Yahoo will only delete the account.||Twitter will transfer accounts if you jump through legal hoops. Facebook leaves pages up as memorials but will not grant account access.||Registrar behemoth Go Daddy has an established protocol that allows for the transfer of domains within 24 hours if paperwork is in order.|
|What You Can Do||Keep those DVDs, stick to streaming or accept that buying digital content actually means renting it for the really long term.||For now, the best bet is to specify in your will who should – or who should never – see your e-mail.||Leave instructions in your will. Lawyers advise keeping password in a separate document.||Check the policy of your registrar. Make a detailed list of domain names and who gets them.|
|Will It Change?||Maybe. The rise of streaming could preclude major changes.||Probably. Pending legislation could help executors get access, and providers may add a step to the sign-up process asking what to do in case of death or incapacity.||Probably. Policymakers are trying to give survivors greater access to the accounts of deceased loved ones.||No. Big registrars deal with this issue regularly and have processes for passing on these issues.
Steinmetz, Katy, From Here to E-Ternity Time Magazine, Vol. 181, No. 5, 2013, February 11, 2013, Pg. 54-