There are many types of digital assets. For example, there are product images, lifestyle photography, logos, illustrations, animations, audio/video clips, presentations, page files, office documents, spreadsheets, CAD files, digital file formats and metadata, family photo albums, music collections, and back up services (such as Mozy), etc. Essentially, people’s entire lives are stored in digital format, making it crucial to name a digital executor in an estate plan.
Importance of a Digital Executor
Digital assets will often carry sentimental and/or economical value to the owner. Appointing a digital executor will allow access to all of your online accounts and any device storing personal digital assets. When you die, your loved ones may not be privy to your accounts, nor the contents of those accounts. Administrators over at Yahoo, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Linked In, Pay Pal, Twitter, or any financial institution with on-line banking, may not elect to share these accounts, as most of these accounts and profiles (if not all of them) are non-transferrable, per the terms of service agreement.
However, with the increase of internet businesses, these accounts are often linked to other accounts used as a source to generate income. These assets are part of the decedent’s estate and need to be properly administered through probate court. The estate could experience unintended non-renewals for certain important accounts, resulting in insufficient financial analysis of the estate. This would cause an inaccurate accounting, and create financial loss if the account was producing revenue. Then, there could be the opposite effect, where there is unintended automatic renewal, incurring unexpected costs for the estate.
Choice of Law
Should it become necessary to litigate any issues associated with a decedent’s digital assets, choice of legal forum becomes a second area of conflict. Even though some states have enacted legislature that explicitly grants executors of an estate access to digital assets and online accounts, many service agreements have already chosen the jurisdiction under which any disputes would be decided. Conveniently, of course, the creators of these agreements deliberately select states/jurisdictions whose digital assets laws are relaxed and/or give favor towards the account administrators.
Imagine that all of the Facebook users who die each year in the United States (which is reported to be over a quarter million) expire without an executor. That scenario would leave their surviving relatives with the practically impossible task of navigating through the internet attempting to access their loved ones’ digital assets, if they can find them. Those same surviving family members, at that point, not only are they left dealing with the loss of a loved one, but also the added incurred expenditure of litigating such tedious and technological matters. Appointing a digital executor would relieve the judicial system of the growing congestion developing within the probate court because of these new and ever growing issues shadowing over the legal world.
Selecting Your Digital Executor
As our society moves further into a post-modern culture, the role of a digital executor will become increasingly important. An attorney well versed in many areas of law would be the most qualified professional to help protect your digital assets, since they have boundless possibilities, encompassing sentimental and monetary value. When selecting a digital executor, the most attractive qualities to look for would include a lawyer skilled in the areas of: internet law, business law, litigation, intellectual property, contract law and probate law.
The team at the Law Office of Christopher B. Johnson are a unique group of legal professionals experienced and knowledgeable enough to handle all of your needs as digital executor. Each member has a diverse background, equipping them with the skills to competently and efficiently administer your digital assets. Contact them today for an immediate consultation.