As everyone, especially younger people (those under the age of 40), become more and more technologically dependent and accumulating an overflow of digital assets, the development of their first estate plan takes on a brand new meaning. Simply put, a digital asset is anything stored in a binary format that comes with a right to use. If there is no right to use, then it is not an asset. A digital asset can come in the shape of images, textual content, and multi-media form. Basically, it is digitally stored content or an online account, owned by an individual. However, the minute a digital asset (i.e., an email, a photo, etc.) is printed, it then becomes tangible property, and is no longer a digital asset.
This material is either on a personal device (desktop, laptop, smart phone, pad/tablet, digital camera, etc.) or on the internet (cloud, one drive, social media, etc.). Some examples of where you might find a digital assets include:
- Go Daddy
- Any on-line bank account
- Electronically filed tax returns
- Digital photo albums (i.e., Snapfish, Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, Flikr [Yahoo], etc.)
Intestate laws (rules designed to help administer the estate of someone who died without a will) are well equipped to deal with traditional assets, but not necessarily when it comes to digital assets. Therefore, in order to spare surviving relatives from not only the despair of the loss, but the headache associated with complex probate issues, a person should identify and take inventory of all digital assets. Nobody is more equipped to accomplish this task than the owner of a digital asset – you.
Though there are companies that help a person organize their digital assets (Entrustet, Data Inherit, Locker) by providing the user with an account to input all of their information related to their digital assets, this service, however, is not legally binding. While it is a step in the right direction, only the assignment of a digital asset executor named in a properly executed will or trust is the most efficient way to ensure the protection of digital assets.
The question will eventually arise; who is the owner of the account and/or the content within the account? The website/network, or the person who created an account within that website/network? Issues surrounding digital assets created during employment will also surface. If a digital asset was created while working for an employer, then it is possible that the true owner of the asset is the employer; depending on the terms of the employment contract and whether the asset was created within the scope of employment and in furtherance of employment.
Digital assets will be an increasingly complex and important topic of conversation as our society functions more in a technological and digital capacity. The average person living in this almost futuristic culture owns some type of digital asset, whether they know it or not; and, it could be a challenge just attempting to identify them all. This is why it is important to understand what they are and how to protect them. The Law Office of Christopher B. Johnson is familiar with the various forms digital assets can take, and are prepared to help inventory and guard your them. They invite you to call them today, and they will be happy to better acquaint you with the world of digital assets.