Sonoma Sun ~ Eric Gullotta


Death and your digital assets

Posted on June 22, 2016 by Eric Gullotta

Oh Facebook, how I love thee. Dropbox, you make my life so simple. iTunes, what would I do without your constant stream of music and videos? Apple and Android, thank you for putting a camera in my pocket so that I may take millions of pictures of my family and friends. Sounds like a poem? Ok, fine. I’m an attorney and not a poet but it does make a nice lead in to this month’s article: your digital assets and death.

As our lives become more “cloud based” we must start to consider how these digital assets will be handled when we die. For many old school digital assets, the solution is simple. You can log into your loved ones PC or Mac and there, on the hard drive are all of their pictures, documents, etc. But what about the cloud?

Cloud-based storage means you can access it from anywhere. But, it also means that someone else controls it and regulates access to the contents. Amazon, iTunes, Dropbox are examples of companies that hold your digital assets on your behalf. Amazon has movies, eBooks and music, iTunes has music, movies and TV shows. Dropbox can have just about anything — important files, music, pictures, etc. I personally use Dropbox as my cloud-based access to important documents (power of attorney, health directives, etc.) when I’m traveling and don’t have remote access to my personal network.

So what happens when we die? Ultimately, it comes down to the “terms of service” that we all sign but never read when registering for a new account or updating an old one.

Can my wife email the company customer support, tell them I’m dead and gain access to the precious files they are holding for me? Maybe. They may respect her role as my executor but they may not. Some states like Connecticut, Delaware and Idaho have enacted legislation that give access to your executor or responsible party access to your digital assets. But, California has not. So, we have to improvise.

In our office, we add digital assets to the list of property transferred to a revocable living trust via the “schedule A”. This puts your digital assets (theoretically) on par with your personal property, real property and cash accounts. Fortunately, I haven’t gotten to test it yet as the right case hasn’t come along.

You can shortcut the whole process by keeping a list of all of your accounts and login information. By making this list available to your successor, they can simply log in as you, download whatever content is important and problem solved. The downside here is that as passwords change, you must remember to change the password log. I’ve found with many clients who try this with online banking, the passwords are rarely current.

We are still in a brave new world when it comes to planning for digital assets. I favor the simple method of writing down passwords but that is because my digital assets aren’t that valuable. All of my pictures are on my hard drive at my house, backed up to a local network. Truth be told, advanced planning for digital assets doesn’t make sense yet because the cost of planning versus the value of the assets are not in line. As time goes on, this is likely to change. Of course, if you have valuable digital assets and are concerned about protecting them, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney before it’s too late.

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