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Jan 6, 201408:39 AMTaking Stock

with Nathan Brinkman

What will happen to my digital assets if I die?

In today’s digital age, many individuals live at least a part of their lives online. Whether you share your life with others through email, Facebook posts, and tweets or simply have a number of password-protected online accounts, you’ll want to make plans for the disposition of all of your digital assets in the event of your death or incapacity.

Unfortunately, the laws governing digital assets are not well settled. Only a small number of states have estate laws that specifically cover digital assets, and those laws are relatively new and untested. As a result, you should consult an estate-planning attorney for information on how digital assets are handled in your particular state.

For the most part, websites, blogs, and registered domain names are transferable under standard property and copyright laws. However, certain online accounts (e.g., email and social media accounts) may not be transferrable, depending on the site’s terms of service. Terms of service vary widely from site to site. Some sites will allow a person with the appropriate legal authority to access your accounts upon your death. Others will put your accounts in a “memorial state” or permanently delete your account upon proper notification of your death.

The most important step you can take to protect your digital assets is to include them in your estate plan, just as you would your physical assets. Your first step should be to identify and inventory all of your digital assets. Make a list of where your assets are located and how they are accessed (e.g., username and password). Next, indicate what you wish to happen to your digital assets (e.g., transfer to an heir or terminate) and who will be responsible for carrying out those wishes (e.g., an executor). Be sure to refer to this inventory in your will (but keep it separate since your will eventually becomes public information).

If privacy issues surrounding your digital assets are a real concern, a number of online websites securely store all of your digital asset information and allow you to leave legacy instructions for a designated beneficiary or executor. The costs of these types of services vary, depending upon the services offered.

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