Naturally after we move on from this life, our worldly possessions will continue on. We know what will happen to our treasured books and music — they'll either go to loved ones or others so they can continue to be enjoyed. But as we know, content doesn't always come in physical form.
The matter of what happens to our digital content when we die is rather tricky. Digital Right Management is designed to combat sharing, mostly to thwart piracy. Unfortunately, that also means that your rights to that content is just that — your rights. They're almost always nontransferable, so if you pass away, so do any dibs on that material.
Of course, the tech-savvy have legally gray ways around this… and in fact, so do the not-so-tech-savvy. After all, how hard is it use a dearly departed's logins? But some people believe that there shouldn't have to be work-arounds.
New Jersey–based estate-planning attorney Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss notes "that account is an asset and something of value." Writer Evan Carroll agrees. Co-author of "Your Digital Afterlife," he underscores the massive investment some people make into these collections, and notes that the situation would leave heirs losing out on what could be a big inheritance. "I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family would be OK with losing a collection of 10,000 books and songs," he says.
Here's the thing: When you own a book, you actually own that physical copy. You can pretty much do what you like with it. But you have no ownership rights over digital music or software. (Plus, notes Carroll, "legally dividing one account among several heirs would also be extremely difficult.")
Connecticut, Rhode Island, Indiana, Oklahoma and Idaho have passed laws to allow executors and relatives access to email and social networking accounts of those who've died, but not every state has adopted the legislation — even if they did, none of these laws cover actual digital content.
Well, if you're concerned about your epic collection, there's at least one way to safeguard it — through estate planning. Now traditional estate planning doesn't really concern itself with digital media assets, but Jacksonville attorney David Goldman's new solution will. When he launches the software next month, estate planners will be able to create a legal trust for client accounts that govern digital music, movies and books. Although you need to arrange this before you hit the great beyond, at least it's one way to go while estate laws catch up with the 21st century.
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