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Estate Planning – Digital Assets

by Mitchell Rattner

When meeting with a lawyer to discuss estate planning, most often the client will consider the dispositions of his/her real property, personal possessions, business interests, and other investments. Proper consideration also needs to be given to the extent and nature of the client’s digital assets.

Almost everyone has a digital presence, but every individual’s digital presence may vary significantly in scope and in economic value. Most people today have an email address and account. A client should consider whether there are any emails he or she wishes to share with a beneficiary, whether an important financial document or an email of particular emotional significance, and direct the estate trustee to dispose of any such emails according to particular instructions.

Many individuals also have profiles on social media websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. With the increase of posting pictures and videos online, and the decline of creating printed photo albums and tapes/DVDs of home videos, it may be that family photographs that would otherwise have been bequeathed as a physical asset, exist only in digital form, whether on an online social media server, or on the hard drive of a computer, tablet, mobile phone, or memory card. A testator should carefully consider which of these digital assets are to be preserved, and how to distribute these assets to the intended beneficiary/ies.

Another digital asset that should be considered is one’s digital music and movie collection, given the monetary value of a media collection purchased through a service such as iTunes. There is also value in domain names, as well as in digital currency such as Bitcoin. The above are only examples of a few types of digital assets, and this list is not meant to be exhaustive.

Estate planning is complicated, and it is always recommended that you consult with a lawyer to assist in your estate planning needs, but while going through the process of reflection on and evaluation of your estate, and deciding how it is to be distributed, it is important to turn your mind to your digital assets, so you can instruct your lawyer which of these assets are to be preserved, and how they are to be distributed.