Annually we spend billions of dollars on items we never touch. Whether it is music, e-books or movies, these digital files only exist on our smart phones, tablets and computers. Many of us have quite a collection of our favorite songs, books and movies.
Digital assets sometimes have the same monetary and sentimental value as jewelry or furniture. While it is convenient to have them digitally and not collecting dust on a bookcase, do we really own them and who has ownership of them when we pass away?
Over a lifetime, a music lover could easily collect several thousands of dollars in music downloads. Instead of a bookcase full of books, you might download another $5,000 worth of books throughout your lifetime. When you are spending a few dollars here and there on music or books, you don’t realize the value. It can really add up.
A good practice would be keeping an inventory of your digital assets. Log all the music and books you have downloaded. We advise clients to inventory their physical assets when they are planning their estate. Cataloging a list of your digital assets and the value of each piece as you accumulate them is a good way to prepare.
Like any other asset but the law is trying to catch up with all the emerging technology. In a lot of cases, we don’t really own these digital assets.
Some of those service agreements – that we don’t always read – contain language that address this. Providers such as Yahoo and Amazon state that accounts are non-transferable and that’s why you may not really be buying a book – it’s really just licensed to you for use.
Twelve states introduced legislation this year proposing to grant expanded powers to an executor, personal representative or administrator of a person’s digital assets.
As with a lot of matters, court cases will most likely define and clarify ownership of digital assets. Currently, it is still evolving. It’s something we will keep our eye on for the next several years.