What Are Digital Assets?
Any online account of monetary or sentimental value could be considered a digital asset. If a person has millions of social media followers, their Instagram or YouTube accounts could be worth a significant portion of their estate. On the other hand, a person’s personal Facebook page may not be valuable, but an executor will need access to delete the account or memorialize the page.
Common digital assets in New York include:
- Website content, blogs, and domain names
- Email accounts through business or web providers such as Gmail
- Text messages and online chat conversations
- A YouTube account that produces an advertising revenue stream
- Other online video channels with monetized or sponsored content
- Etsy or eBay shops
- PayPal or Venmo accounts
- Personal or business Twitter accounts
- Personal or business Facebook and Instagram profiles
- Personal or business Pinterest accounts
- Other social media accounts
- Online music or media libraries
- Yelp business pages or review histories
- Photos in online albums or sharable sites
- Subscription services such as dating websites, weight loss apps, grocery shipments, etc.
- Personal files in Google docs or cloud storage
- Digital rights to artwork, music, or written works
- Electronic securities trading accounts
- Online betting accounts
- Online gaming avatars
- Digital currencies, rewards, account balances, or coupons
- Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin
- Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)
- Other online assets on emerging platforms
Administration of Digital Assets in New York
In the past, it was nearly impossible for a deceased person’s next of kin to gain access to their online accounts. Even executors of the estate risked violating each platform’s service agreement or breaking federal laws such as the Electronic Computer Privacy Act, the Stored Communications Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
In 2016, New York passed the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) to allow the administration of online assets through a will, trust, or power of attorney. Notably, the law overrides the denial of fiduciary or executor access to online accounts included in the provider’s terms of service agreement.
While the new law makes it possible for executors to access a decedent's digital assets, it may be a challenging task. Suppose you have considerable online assets but have left unclear instructions. In that case, your executor may not know the value of the accounts, how to log in, or what to do with the contents, potentially costing your heirs a considerable sum.
Make It Easy for Your Executor to Find and Access Your Digital Accounts
You should specifically appoint an executor of your digital assets in your estate plan. It may be the same person serving as your general executor, but it should ideally be someone with a grasp of technology and who knows the value of online assets.
Once you have chosen your executor, you should:
- Make an inventory of digital assets. In addition to making an inventory of physical assets, make a list of all your online accounts and passwords and keep it in a secure place. Back up any crucial digital information on a secure hard drive and note the location for your executor. Note the estimated value of each and how to extract that value. For example, gaming avatars and their inventories may be sold for their cash value, while websites must stay active to collect advertising revenue.
- Provide clear instructions. Decide what you would like your executor to do with each account, such as archiving, memorializing, deleting, or transferring to a loved one’s control.
- Give explicit permission. Your will, powers of attorney, and revocable living trusts should provide written consent for your chosen representative to access digital accounts. You should also clearly state the level of access granted and the extent of the executor’s control. For example, executors may be limited to a catalog of texts or emails instead of the full content.
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