Why Digital Assets Matter

Why Digital Assets Matter


By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.

October 23, 2014

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: we live in a digital world.

It’s become cliché to say that. However, there’s a reason the phrase has been repeated so often in recent years, and that’s because it’s true. The digitization of our lives is increasing exponentially. Don’t believe it? How many photos and videos have you taken on your smartphone and then saved on computer or the cloud? What about your letters and other written documents? Do you actually have hard copies of everything, or does much of it exist only in digital form? What about emails? Do people with eReaders really own all of the books on their device?

This may seem inconsequential when you’re thinking about the things that matter after you die, but for many of us they’re only going to matter more and more as time passes and our “digital life” becomes at least as prevalent as our “real” one. Clark is someone who was well aware of this prevalence — he was even a big proponent for it — but somehow it never occurred to him how is digital life would transition to his family after he passed.

What Happens When a Technophile Ignores Tech in Estate Planning?

As a mid-level employee at Google and self-proclaimed “futurist”, Clark should have known better. After all, he made a self-conscious choice to do everything he could online and laughed at those who weren’t as “savvy” as he was. Why have physical photo albums when you could keep thousands of digital pictures online and cut down on clutter? Who needs a Blu-ray player, discs, or even shelves when you can just stream everything on Netflix or Hulu or keep it saved to your iTunes or Amazon account? He even supported his favorite charities digitally, setting up automatic payments to be debited out of his accounts.

His charitable acts didn’t stop there, either. Clark was big on helping the less fortunate, and made a point of making large donations to area schools and youth organizations, typically earmarking his contributions for technological innovations. In fact, one year, he bought new iPads for every student and faculty member at a local elementary school.

Since Clark never married and didn’t have any children, when it came to estate planning he only set up a bare-bones Last Will and Testament. It provided for everything he owned to be donated to specific charities. The self-proclaimed “futurist” never specifically mentioned his digital property or accounts anywhere, and this became problematic when he died suddenly in an auto accident.

To what would have been his great surprise, companies like Apple and Amazon now have policies that automatically close your accounts (and disable access to your files – including digital books and videos) as soon as they receive notice of death. Media, including thousands of books, that Clark otherwise likely would have donated to charity, were simply lost. Even more importantly, he never thought to leave anyone his various passwords so that they could access his digital documents, photos, and such after he died. As a result, it sat in limbo while his estate went through probate, and some of his most prized possessions were lost forever.

Digital Assets Are Still Real Assets

Imagine if Clark had left behind a wife and children and they couldn’t gain access to years worth of digitally saved family photos or videos? For many of us, our digital lives are mostly an afterthought, but they shouldn’t be. More and more of our real lives are becoming digital, and we owe it to those we leave behind to preserve as much as we can. After all, wouldn’t you appreciate having videos of your ancestors giving insight into who they were, what they were passionate about, what they stood for, and what they hoped for the future of their family?

This doesn’t happen by itself and generally not by operation of law. In order to ensure your digital assets are preserved for generations, you have to make sure that your estate plan reflects our modern era. With a Bachelors of Science in Computer Information Science, a law degree, and a Masters of Law in Taxation, Barry E. Haimo, Esq., founder of Haimo Law, is well-positioned to ensure that your estate plan is modernized and complete. To provide further service to our clients, Haimo Law has established a partnership with ScanCafe that enables our clients to cost effectively digitize their old media and preserve it for future generations to cherish.

Is all of your property accounted for? If you’re not sure, contact us today. We can help.