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Spokane Estate & Probate Lawyers / Blog / Estate Planning / Dealing with “Digital Assets” After Death in Washington

Dealing with “Digital Assets” After Death in Washington


For many of us, our entire lives are contained on our smartphone. From our music collection to our most personal data, such “digital assets” present unique legal challenges when it comes to estate planning. So, it is important to understand what digital assets you actually own–and how you can dispose of them after your death.

Ownership Is Not What You Think

Even at a time when people primarily consume digital content through subscription services such as Netflix or Spotify, it is still quite common for a person to “own” a substantial library of purchased books, music, movies, and television shows. The use of quotes here is deliberate, because the fact is you likely do not own any of these purchases. Rather, you paid for a revocable and non-transferable license to access such digital content on your own devices or through an account with the content provider.

In other words, you probably do not have ownership rights in most of your digital content purchases. The terms of service governing the service make that explicit if you read the fine print. As a result, you cannot leave those digital libraries to someone in your will or through a trust. Once you die, so does the license to access that content.

Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets

Of course, many of us use cloud storage and online services to store content that we created or otherwise do have ownership rights to, such as our personal photo libraries or backups of our computer files. So, what happens to those digital assets when we die? More to the point, what is the obligation of the companies that control access to our data?

Many states, including Washington, have adopted some form of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. In simple terms, this act permits the “custodian” of a digital asset to create online tools that enable users to designate a “fiduciary” who can access some or all of the information stored in the account.

Again, the law will not let you give your fiduciary access to transfer the license to your iTunes library. But it will allow you to include a clause in your will authorizing Apple to let the personal representative of your estate–or other fiduciary, such as an agent under a power of attorney–download your emails and other personal documents from your iCloud account.

In fact, Apple has a “Legacy Contacts” program that allows owners of more recent iPhone and iPad devices to add a fiduciary designation to your Apple ID. After you die, your legacy contact can access your Apple account by presenting an access key (which you create as part of the designation process) and a copy of your death certificate.

If you are an Android user, Google has a similar program, which they call “Inactive Account Manager.” Google will automatically deactivate–and delete–an account if it is not accessed for a certain amount of time. But like Apple, Google allows a user to provide a “trusted contact” who can gain access to your account using a phone number that you provide.

Speak with a Spokane Estate Planning Lawyer Today

Digital assets are an important, yet often overlooked, part of estate planning. Our Spokane estate planning lawyers are happy to speak with you further on this subject. Contact Moulton Law Offices, P.S., today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout the Spokane Valley, Kennewick, and Yakima area.




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