Who Owns Your Digital Stuff?

I have no independent recollection of ever having read an End User Licence Agreement. (EULA)  It is possible my life or that of my family may be imperiled by that omission.  After all, we know that Adam and Eve did not read the Apple end user agreement.  Bad outcome for them.

Digital and electronic assets are an ever growing class.   Our will planning and our powers of attorney should consider what is out there.  They should assess the end user agreements.

My friend, John Page, suggested this blog article when he sent me  Planning Implications of New Legislation For Digital Assets.  It is American and its point is that the states are gradually defining what may happen with digital assets after death.  No such legislation is on the horizon in Canada.

I learned quite a lot from the article.  The thing that upped the attention level was the Yahoo clause relating to termination on death.

No right of survivorship and non-transferability. You agree that your Yahoo account is non-transferable and any rights to your Yahoo ID or contents within your account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your account may be terminated and all contents therein permanently deleted.”

If your Yahoo account has value, that is troubling.  I suppose it is unlikely that they will get a death certificate or notice of death, but if they did what would you do?

What is more troubling is that others may behave this way too. What about Dropbox and the family photographs?  Do you own your iTunes inventory or do you, exclusively, have the right to watch, read or listen.  What of Kindle or Kobo?  Could someone access the followers list on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter?  What about a high EBay rating?  What if any of these mattered to an ongoing business?  Maybe there is a PayPal account.

There will be legislation eventually.  It will address the privacy conflict inherent in allowing others, even estate trustees, to have access to these accounts.  It is not an easy problem to solve and will not solve the question of knowing what digital accounts are there.

In the interim, consider your will and power of attorney documents.  Do they specifically allow someone to access your cloud accounts?  Should they?  Could your attorney or executor know where to look?

The article above offers five steps that should be considered now.  While you can.

  1. Write down the name/website of every online account.
  2. Document usernames and passwords.
  3. Write down the email address associated with the account.
  4. Document what information each website contains and whether or not it is a priority.
  5. Talk with their estate attorney about the appropriate way to document this in their legal documents.

You probably should also document the password that accesses your computer and the password that accesses the passwords within your browsers.

Years ago I helped a lawyer track down bank accounts for a deceased client who believed in spreading his money around.  While time consuming, that was child’s play compared to what finding and accessing all the digital accounts entails.

It remains to be seen how ownership of digital rights will play out, but you can give your family some chance of getting it right if you follow the simple steps.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. Contact: don@moneyfyi.com 

One Comment on “Who Owns Your Digital Stuff?

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