What is Digital Property?

For us to discuss estate planning for digital property, we first need to define digital property.

Digital property includes data, Internet accounts, and other rights in the digital world, including contractual rights and intellectual property rights. Data are the files and information stored and used by computers (such as e–mails, word processing documents, spreadsheets, pictures, audio files, and movies). This data may be stored locally on a computer’s hard drive or on removable media, or data may be stored remotely and accessed over the Internet.

Internet accounts are governed by contracts between an individual and a service provider, such as e–mail accounts, accounts at financial institutions, accounts on shopping Web sites, Web page or blog hosting accounts, social networking accounts, registered domain names, and online video game and virtual world accounts.

Intellectual property rights also can exist in digital property, such as pictures, music, movies, literary works, Web pages, computer code, and other creative works.

With other, traditional forms of property (real estate, stocks and bonds, bank accounts, life insurance, vehicles, personal property, etc.), there are well established procedures and processes to locate it, identify value, and transfer control or ownership upon a person’s incapacity or death. But there are significant differences with digital property, especially with Internet accounts and encrypted electronic data. If a person has not provided a list of all the accounts, passwords, and other key information about digital property, dealing with the person’s incapacity or death becomes more difficult. Failure to plan ahead can make it practically impossible to locate and access certain types of digital property.

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