|January 3, 2014|
Previously published on December 30, 2013
There has been increasing discussion in the mainstream media and the planning community about how to account for so-called "digital assets." The term "digital assets" comprises several different categories of data that most of us already possess and continue to acquire at an accelerating pace. For example, "digital assets" may refer to digital photos or e-mails. It encompasses downloaded music files, e-books, online subscriptions, airline miles and credit card reward points, any of which may have significant monetary value. Finally, "digital assets" can describe traditional assets that we access through digital means, such as automatic bill-pay accounts or brokerage accounts.
You may have strong preferences for how you would want those assets handled in the event of your incapacity or death. You may feel strongly that some photos or e-mails should be saved, others deleted. And you may want family members to have access to your online accounts. Planning for digital assets, however, poses unique challenges. For example:
- the class of "digital assets" evolves continuously;
- digital assets may exist in any number of locations and formats, including off-site (cloud) storage, making them difficult to locate;
- digital assets are often password-protected, making them difficult to access; and
- state and federal legislators have been slow to address these issues, leading to a tangle of inconsistent user agreements governing your online accounts.
Careful planning and organization increase the likelihood that your digital assets are not lost forever (assuming you would like them to be found) and are handled in a manner consistent with your wishes. As the law continues to catch up with the reality of our lives, it is worth reflecting on your digital assets and how those assets can (or should) be accessed in the event you are unable to access them yourself.