Plan for the Future

How to Make a Real Plan for Virtual Property

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Unlike Vegas, what happens online goes Everywhere. Fast. And stays there forever. The permanence of our online lives poses a few, often-unconsidered, challenges for estate planning and virtual property, especially regarding our social media identity and money invested in digital books or music.

“Every social networking site has its own policies regarding giving a friend or family access to update or take down a site,” says Sarah White, an attorney in Marietta, Georgia, and part of the ARAG Attorney Network.

What’s at risk?

Choosing to leave a site up puts everyone at risk for some potential drama caused by people (known as trolls in the online world) who may leave insulting or inflammatory comments.

For many families, however, leaving the account open is a good choice. “It’s a way to let people know of the passing and to offer a place for people to share thoughts, feelings and memories,” says White.

Can I plan ahead?

If you’d like to be more proactive about how your social media identity is managed, check your state law. “Some states allow you to name someone who can take control of, handle and terminate your digital accounts at death,” says White. “These new laws override any policy the social networking site may have.”

To designate someone as the caretaker of your digital accounts, create a list of your user names and passwords and keep it with your will and final instructions in a secure, yet accessible location.

What happens to my iTunes® and Kindle® books?

“The problem with allocating the digital books and songs you think you own is that you don’t really own them,” says White. “What you own is a license to use the digital files. Specifically, Amazon® and Apple® grant nontransferable rights to use Kindle books or to listen to songs on iTunes, but you can’t pass them to a child or spouse.”

Estate planning laws in many states haven’t caught up to technology yet. As people spend more money on digital content, the law will soon catch up to technology, enabling that content to be passed on like other property.


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