Digital Estate

Jun 12, 2014 | Wealth Management

In the ‘80’s, Madonna was singing “I’m living in the material world, because I’m a material girl.”  However, fast forward to 2014, you need to replace the word “material” with “digital”. 

A survey done by McAfee in 2011, found that the average US internet user placed a value of $55,000 on their digital assets.  While some digital assets clearly have monetary value, others have extremely high sentimental value.   The question is, what happens to your digital assets after you die?  All the songs and movies?  All those pictures? Some online sites will just delete everything after a period of non-use. What about your blog you have posted daily updates on for the past 12 years? Your PayPal account? Online investments? Domain names? Websites?  Facebook? Pinterest? Instagram?  Andrea Coombes of MarketWatch wrote a good article about this topic earlier this year.  The University of Miami published a thorough article about this “Digital Death Conundrum” and the challenges presented regarding digital property. 

The problem may not only be finding the digital assets, but protecting your digital life from public display.  Would you want every private email you sent available for viewing by family members?   Will your complaints three years ago about Aunt Nelda’s prized tuna casserole (exhaustingly dry!) spark a new family feud that will last until late 2034?  Your email could be considered a “digital diary” and you certainly wouldn’t want just anyone having access.

The answer is, there’s not really a good answer.  Obviously this is a new frontier for estate planners and fiduciaries, and we are just beginning to deal with these types of assets.  An executor of an estate is first charged with gathering all the assets of the decedent.  Without access to emails or a comprehensive list, it would be very easy to overlook an online brokerage or banking account.   

Some websites recommend a “digital executor” for your estate.  However, this could create issues with the executor named in the will because the executor named in your will (and appointed by the court) is legally responsible for all your assets, including your digital assets. Obviously, a good start would be to put together your list of digital assets complete with passwords and place it in a safe deposit box.  I recommend discussing this further with your estate planning attorney and he/she will  help account for your digital inventory or give me a call and I’ll help you navigate this digital landscape. 

Have a great week!


Jeff Schriefer
Wealth Management
Bank of the Bluegrass & Trust Co.
859-233-8929 Office
859-252-0304 Fax

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