Did you know you most likely are the owner of “digital assets?” When you hear that term, you may think you do not have any because you do not own Facebook, Google or another internet company. But if you are an Internet user, you probably own digital assets.
Here’s a small test to see what you own. Do you have accounts on websites, other than your bank, that require you to log in? Do you have a web-based email account? Do you shop online for books, music or streaming videos? Do you have a photo storage and sharing site? Do you use a digital service to backup your computer? Do you use online health-related services that require a subscription? Do you tweet, post, message, like or share online? Each of these activities probably require you to create an account on the internet where your items are stored “in the cloud.” These are your digital assets.
While you can easily open and close your digital accounts now, the problem becomes more complicated if you are ill or pass away. Some website end-user agreements do not allow third parties to access accounts under any circumstances. This agreement is the long, legalistic statement that you probably “accept,” without reading when you sign up for a digital service or create an account. The terms in many agreements state that no one can close your account except you. Ever. Additionally, the law currently presumes that any third party who accesses your accounts is unauthorized and is committing fraud. While that may not be true and it is often not enforced, the law is murky on the subject. Congress is reviewing the issue and looking for ways to balance protections against fraud and identity theft with the need to allow a third party to access personal accounts under certain circumstances, like illness or as part of estate administration.
Meanwhile, practical solutions are evolving. An increasing number of people have written about the issue. All authors agree that some kind of “digital will” or “digital trust” needs to be put in place with your written instructions about handling these assets when you no longer can manage them.
In “Five Steps to Creating Your Digital Estate Plan” the author suggests that after making an inventory of all your assets and passwords and naming a “digital executor” and indicating what to do with each account, we should consider whether or not to include a final message to our loved ones.
A new industry of “digital estate planners” is also developing. You can hire a company that will store your passwords and assist in closing accounts (for a fee, of course). Click here to see a list of companies and subscription services. Some of these services will help you plan, others may offer a place to memorialize a loved one after his or her Facebook account is closed, and others will help you keep all your digital assets and access codes in one place..
Whatever you choose to do with your “digital self,” be sure to review your digital estate plan at least once a year. It is important to keep your inventory of digital assets updated so your digital executor can carry out your wishes.
As for us, since CSULB is a premier public university in California we intend never to need these services. We just want you to like us on Facebook!