In an ever-changing world, digital assets have become the norm and virtually everyone owns some nowadays. Unfortunately, some of these digital assets cannot be distributed in your will.
"Digital assets" is a broad term that includes a range of electronic records -- from social media accounts to digital photos, to email addresses and online financial accounts. You can pass some types of digital assets through your will, but most digital assets transfer in other ways, or not at all.
Q: What is a provision for digital assets?
A: a provision for digital assets is much like an asset inventory for physical assets a list of your digital assets and where to find them. It is unwise to include login information in this list.
Digital assets that can pass through your Will
Only digital assets that you own and that have a tangible or monetary value will be included in your estate when you die. You can determine a beneficiary for your digital assets. Examples of digital assets are
- Funds on an online platform eg; Paypal, Payoneer, Stripe, Skrill, etc.
- Funds owed to you by an online store eg; Amazon, Wallmart, Etsy
- Cryptocurrencies eg; Ethereum, Bitcoin
- Digital content such as photographs, music, or other intellectual property that you own and store on your computer's hard drive
If you don't name a specific beneficiary for these digital assets, they will pass to your residuary beneficiary or beneficiaries.
You may also be able to use your will to transfer digital assets that you have licensed, like a domain name or copyright, but this depends on whether the terms of the licensing agreement allow transfer at death. Check your agreements, and see a lawyer if you have concerns.
Digital Assets That Cannot Pass Through Your Will
Practically speaking, most of your digital assets won't pass through your will – either because they do not have monetary or tangible value or because you do not have the right to transfer them. Usually, the value of these non-transferable digital assets comes from their practical or sentimental value to you, your family, or your executor. And often user agreements prohibit transfer to a new owner.
Digital assets that won't pass through your will are:
- Social media accounts or your personal email account
- licensed domains
- subscription accounts like Netflix or Spotify
The general rule here is that if it's not worth money or if you don't own it, you can't pass it through your will.
If such digital assets cannot be passed through your will, you should still make a plan for what happens to them after you die. Some social media account may carry financial value if they have for example amassed a large following.
Your executor requires access to your digital assets
Your executor will need to have access to your digital assets to distribute property. When creating your provision for digital assets, you must detail where the assets can be found, how they can be accessed, and who the beneficiary of such assets are. It is not recommended to include log-in information in your will. Your will document gives your executor the power to access and control all of your digital assets – including email, social media, blogs, online file storage, and financial accounts. However, your executor's legal authority to handle your digital property will be restricted by:
- state and federal laws
- each company's terms of service agreement and
- whether you leave instructions for accessing your accounts and files.
It is not recommended to include user names and passwords
You may consider storing your Will in a “safe place” at home there is always a chance that someone finds it and you don't want the log-in details to your accounts to fall into the wrong hands. The simplest way to ensure that your executor will be able to access your digital assets and accounts after you die is for you to leave detailed log-in information and instructions in a separate letter. That way, your executor(s) will be able to safely access and manage your accounts without relying on company policy or government law.
If you want to restrict your executor's access
The rights of executors to access the digital assets of the deceased are being increased by most states. These laws could make it possible for your executor to get into your accounts even if you don't leave your log-in information. If you have digital assets that you don't want your executor to access, get help from an experienced estate planning lawyer who can help you protect your privacy.