digital property

Planning your estate usually means creating a plan to protect your finances, real estate and pets.  The reasons for protecting these things range from the importance of preserving the items for the generations in your family to reducing taxes and paying off bills after your demise. Most importantly, an estate plan helps your loved ones know your intentions for the distribution of your assets when you’re gone.

In my last article, I shared the importance of protecting your “intangible” property such as digital assets. Digital assets include pictures on your phone, blog posts you’ve authored, apps that you have developed and any content created for your business by a copywriter or social media specialist.

It’s safe to assume that we are now clear on what could be a digital asset. What may not be as clear is what digital assets (or which aspects of a digital asset) are protected in a will.  The good news is that you could be able to address these matters before it’s too late.  Consider the following:

Reporting of income

I’d like to use Amazon, one of the biggest digital assets in the world, as an example. Chances are owner Jeff Bezos has a safe and efficient way of keeping track of payments to his corporate employees and online affiliates. However, in situations involving blogging (on behalf of Amazon, or other companies), such bloggers are sometimes “paid” with product samples or other resources.  This can be hard to track financially, for you (and it could have major tax implications). Be sure to keep track of your payments to add more value to your online business — including your blogging ventures.  Then, make sure that your estate plan accommodates these “assets.”

Staying safe online

An estate attorney may have difficulty helping you protect what isn’t visible.  What if someone were to hack into your blogging account and wipe out all of your content? Do you have backup copies to prove the stolen work belongs to you? What security measures are you taking to protect your accounts and other personal information? Many believe that Amazon has top-of-the-line security in place, but even major corporations have succumbed to hacking violations! Protect your passwords and banking information. Get into the habit of protecting your digital property as you would safeguard your car, furniture and cash.  And again, make sure your estate planning documents include information regarding such passwords and other digital components and assets (who can access these items if you’re gone?  Do that have access information?).

Knowing who is responsible for what

Continuing on with our Amazon examples, the countless IP addresses of a company like Amazon, and the IP addresses of many of the companies under the its umbrella, etc. are possibly to be divided among family and/or close associates upon the owner’s death (more likely, Amazon’s assets will remain under the ownership of Amazon upon Bezos’ death, but Bezos’ interest in Amazon would be handled through his estate plan.  (By the way, Mr. Bezos, if you’re reading this, I’m sure we could find time to review and update your plan at your convenience.  Give us a call anytime!) Make sure you know who is and who should be responsible for every aspect of your online property. An estate attorney should be made aware of the ownership rights of all digital assets before an attempt to protect them ever commences.

Understanding the law…as it currently stands

Digital asset management is always developing, as technology is often evolving. An estate attorney will help you understand the current laws designed to help you protect your digital assets after your death. If you already have digital property included in your current estate plan, please consider reaching out to your attorney to discuss whether any updates are necessary.

It is important to note here, the laws to protect digital assets vary from state to state. Therefore, it is wise to contact the estate attorney’s office in the state in which you reside.

Making online purchases does not equal owning online purchases

When a reader purchases a hard or softcover book from a bookstore, he or she owns that copy of the book. The payment receipt is proof of the purchase. However, when an online buyer downloads a book into an e-reader, proving ownership is almost impossible. This means transferring the ebook or gifting the book may not be allowed. While an estate attorney could possibly help you secure rights to digital publications, you can provide access to your devices on your own, and doing so would help your family will be able to read what’s in your virtual library without any limitations.

While estate planning has traditionally focused on the handling of physical property rights during your lifetime and after your death, in today’s world, responsibilities must include the consideration of your digital property. Due to the ever-changing nature of the digital asset impact of estate planning, it is important to contact an estate attorney to discuss your options. Even if you have no tangible assets — other than a phone or tablet – you (and your child) most likely have digital assets, and such assets should be protected and accounted for. It is never too late to contact an estate attorney to see how your images, songs, email messages and online businesses can be protected after you’ve passed away. Contact us at The TGQ Law Firm today!

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