If you are reading this page, then you almost certainly have a digital estate. And if you are like most people, you haven’t done anything to plan for your “digital afterlife.” Planning for the digital afterlife is a fairly new concept, but it dovetails with many of the traditional estate planning concerns our clients have, such as:
- Preserving a legacy for future generations
- Making things easy for loved ones when we pass away
- Protecting privacy, and
- Planning for incapacity.
What Is a Digital Estate
A digital estate includes all of the accounts and assets that you use, access and maintain through a computer. For most people, a digital estate will include email accounts, social networking accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc), online shopping or billpay accounts and files on your computer. Some people may also have photos stored online through services like Flickr or Picasa; or they may have original content stored on a blog or personal website. Depending on the composition of your own digital estate, you could have intellectual property rights that need to be protected, real economic interests in the money sitting in an online seller account, or personal and sentimental information which your family may want to access or preserve in the event of your death. Some participants in online communities or games may even have virtual currency or property which has actual economic value and should be accounted for.
To a significant degree, the law has not yet caught up to technology. As a result, planning for these assets can be a minefield of legal, technological and practical problems. Some of these assets (such as funds in online bank accounts) may actually be owned by you and will pass pursuant to a traditional estate plan. For most of these accounts, however, you may only have the right to store and access your content, rather than true ownership of the account. Your rights and responsibilities to all of these various accounts are spelled out in each company’s Terms of Service. In order to plan effectively for your digital estate, you (or your advisor) must have a working knowledge of each company’s Terms of Service, as well as the legal and practical issues involved in granting access to different types of digital assets.
The attorneys at Clarity Legal Group® are well versed in all of the myriad aspects of planning for digital estates. We can discuss the composition of your digital estate, the goals you might have for disposing of or preserving various digital assets, and how to create a plan to achieve your goals. As more and more aspects of your life become linked to technology, it becomes increasingly important to plan for your digital life and afterlife. Clarity Legal Group® can help you develop and implement a plan for these crucial but often overlooked assets.