Digital Assets -- They're Not Just Referring to Your Bank Account Anymore

Sharan Lee Levine

I recently opened my email to find my usual notifications from Pinterest. Like other users, Pinterest sends me frequent notes letting me know someone picked up or liked my “pins” – which follow along with the topics of cooking, weaving, cross-stitching, or quilting. And, of course, I am bombarded with suggestions to look at pins on my various interests.

However, this was a different email from Pinterest, notifying me one of my pins on quilts was removed.  In the email, Pinterest stated: 

“We’re getting in touch to let you know we received a copyright complaint and have removed one (or more) of your Pins. The complaint wasn’t directed against you or your Pin; it was directed against another user’s Pin of the same content…”

This notification got me thinking. Clearly, the quilt developer claims ownership in her design. She probably sells her design to people who want to put it to use her quilt idea and project. Selling designs online and having people copy the design without paying her for it violates her ownership interest. Taking this further, I realized the quilt developer owns an asset that has value. The design is not in a book that I buy in a quilt shop. Here, the asset is one that is purely digital.

The quilt developer might want to sell her digital asset — her quilt design — to interested quilters and not want the average Pinterest user to simply pin and disseminate the design without purchasing it. 

Managing valuable digital assets is an increasing concern in estate planning. If you have developed digital assets — websites, games, designs, photos, all sold or viewed digitally — you need to be aware of their value. You also need to identify the asset in your estate plan:  Referencing the asset, transferring, and/or incorporating the asset into your trust or estate plan is critical. 

Think about who you would want to designate to serve as trustee or administrator of your digital assets. This person may — or may not — be the successor trustee of your other more routine assets. For instance, your spouse and/or children may not be the best person to manage an online asset. Ask yourself questions, such as: How will the successor trustee have access to administer the asset? Where do you keep the username, password, administrator? 

This issue is one of several issues regarding the management of your digital assets. We have talked in other articles about making sure to keep track of your online accounts, meaning maintenance of your usernames and passwords. Increasingly, another area of attention involves maintaining or closing social media accounts associated with a loved one upon their death. Some people want their accounts closed down immediately, while others have gathered genealogical history, family photos, and other significant information that they want others to share after their death. 

We encourage you to give a thought about what you want and need to do to protect or close out your digital interests or transfer them to others. Engage your estate plan lawyer to help you put your cyberspace footprint into words. Our firm can assist you in preparing your estate plan needs.

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