Without proper planning digital rights to songs, photographs, blogs, websites, domains, music, movies, and other content can be lost when someone dies. Proper planning for the transfer of ownership and access to digital assets has become important when considering wills, trusts, and estates. The digital world has grown tremendously in the past several decades. The storage, and transfer of files both on personal computers and with online storage and streaming services is becoming more prevalent. Similarly, the expectation to maintain an online presence is closely catching up to our responsibilities in the real world. Online personal profiles such as Facebook and Twitter have more users now than ever and the online marketplace, from vendors such as Amazon and eBay, have exploded the online transfer of goods and services. Ownership and access to all of these products and services have given birth to what is known as digital assets. Put simply, nearly everyone is now in possession of digital assets in one way or another.
Digital assets are rapidly growing every year and present a complicated situation when determining the line of action to follow when dealing with estates and inheritance. Digital assets introduce a variety of property which must be recorded and distributed in the case of an inheritance.
Digital assets are categorized as anything stored in a binary format and attached with a direct right to use. Under these terms, text, image, and multimedia files are all included as digital assets. Digital assets, can also be realized in three distinct areas of property: (1) a digital file/record (2) the right to use (3) method of access (including password and authorization use). Digital assets which clearly possess a monetary value are online bank accounts, however, items such as online trading accounts, digital intellectual property, and even crypto-currencies (such as Bitcoin) are also included as digital assets with a monetary value.
To be put more simply, digital assets may be understood as the digital files. These may include word files, images, digital audio, videos, and emails. In a similar fashion, digital accounts may refer to the access right to these files. In order to present a clear and concise inventory of digital ownership, both the digital assets and the digital accounts must be clearly provided and related to provide the proper access and ownership of valuable and personal digital data.
To date, only a handful of states have approved legislation pertaining to digital assets and estate planning. The lack of oversight of digital assets therefore requires that proper steps are taken to secure and provide access in the event of death or inheritance to ensure control is maintained by the individual and not relinquished to a corporation, as in the event of digital downloads and media.
In order to ensure the proper access and ownership of digital assets is addressed, management of the estate must include an identification and inventory of all digital assets (including hardware, software, online accounts, software licenses, etc.), identify help and/or a trustee with experience in the digital world, provide appropriate passwords and access to digital mediums (the access to a service would be included), proper instructions (for managing online accounts, addressing online communication forums, etc.), and finally providing the appropriate authority for continued management of all digital assets.
With the growing use of the internet, cloud storage, and digital formats, the importance of digital assets has continued to grow. Managing these digital assets will require the proper oversight of all binary formats (media, image, and textual), access to these items (such a personal computer) as well as online services (Facebook, iTunes, GoDaddy, Weebly, Pandora, Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, Vudu, Spotify, gmail, outlook.com, fastmail, AOL, etc.), and documentation of these items in a similar fashion to personal property commonly managed within an estate.
If you have any questions regarding: auditing/documenting your digital assets, responding to patent office actions, prosecuting your patent application, conducting interviews with patent examiners, branding, trademarks, patent planning or other intellectual property matters, please contact Garcia-Zamor Intellectual Property Law, LLC