Digital assets can be an important part of many people’s estates. Most people have some form of digital assets. Here are some examples of ordinary digital assets most people might have:
- Electronic-only bank accounts or brokerage accounts
- Passwords for access to credit card accounts
- Passwords for access to bank accounts and other financial accounts
- Log in information for Facebook or other social media
- Email accounts and passwords
For most people the most important digital asset might be their email account. By having access to that, someone could access other accounts which list that email address. They could use the “forgot password” feature on those accounts and have the new passwords sent to the email account to which they already have access. For most people, it’s wise to leave ways to access these accounts in a secure location. A simple way is by leaving these passwords in a safe deposit box. Another option is to use an electronic safe, such as that available through Docubank’s SAFE. That way, if you die or become incapacitated, your executor, trustee, or agent will have access to your digital assets, assuming your documents provide the appropriate language, such as that used in the documents of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.
But, actors, artists, and others may wish to control their likeness or the electronic duplication of their works of art, etc. Serious consideration should be given to such assets. For example, a famous work of art may be worth a great deal, but the rights to the electronic dissemination and reproduction of the image may be worth even more. The rights to use a deceased celebrity’s image could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Robin Williams died recently. His estate plan forbid the use of his image for 25 years. Here’s an article about Robin Williams’ estate plan and its prohibition of the use of his image.
Whether you or your client is an everyman or a celebrity, you should consider how your estate will handle digital assets.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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