Americans are spending an unprecedented amount of money for assets that they may not be able to leave to heirs when they die. Digital music, e-books, and movies are among the most popular downloads on the Internet but what happens to a person’s digital library when they die?
Each type of digital asset is different. Some non-tangible assets are worth very little and rarely hold sentimental value while other digital assets may be worth a great deal of money. Owners of potentially valuable digital assets should always check the terms of service from the original provider of the assets. A few online content providers do have policies in place to deal with the death of the account holder.
Domain names, and any website associated with the name, are one of the most valuable digital assets a person may own. A New Jersey resident holding a premium domain name should consult a new jersey estate planning attorney regarding how to meet the registrar’s criteria for passing on the name to an heir.
Music and Movies
Music and movie files free of digital rights can generally be passed on to heirs without issue if the heirs have access to the device where the music is stored. However, most music and movie providers state that customers do not actually “buy’ their product; customers purchase a license for personal use of the material so it is unlikely most movies and music files can legally be willed to another party.
E-books are similar to digital music in that there is no clear law about the ability to pass these assets own to heirs. In most cases, the e-book reader is more valuable than the collection of e-books and since e-books can never take on the collectible status of tangible books, it is not likely heirs will contest the ownership of an e-book.
E-Mail Accounts & Social Media Accounts
E-mail providers and social media networks typically close the accounts of deceased users. While e-mail and social media accounts typically have no monetary value, the contents can be extremely useful for family members and estate trustees. Anyone who wants family members or an estate trustee to have access to these accounts should leave the passwords with their new jersey estate planning attorney, along with instructions regarding who may have access to the accounts. This way, family members will have access to the accounts until after the account holder’s death.
Individuals purchasing any digital asset should read the terms of service, which may include information on whether the asset is transferable upon the owner’s death. However, many companies have not addressed this issue yet and as more technologies are introduced, the matter can only become more complex.