Digital assets are the next frontier for probate and estate planning professionals. When stock certificates, deeds and cold hard cash are replaced with ones, zeroes and bits or bytes of information, an entire industry needs to look to new and innovative ways to plan for the future. What happens, for example, to the lifetime of Facebook photographs that might only exist in a digital form? Who owns your emails when you die? What happens to your cloud data? These questions, and plenty more, will most certainly be answered in the very near future as our accounts, assets and much of our very lives now reside only in the intangible ether of the Internet.
A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed a new feature recently rolled out by Google that allows users to control their own data after death. Google’s “Inactive Account Manager” allows users to specify what they would like to have happen to their data after certain periods of inactivity. The data can be deleted, or given to one or more other people. These digital heirs cannot control the decedent’s account, but access will no longer be a problem.
With the move, Google has taken a bold step that will likely find many followers. Those that follow the industry giant will likely help bring some uniformity, and perhaps some innovative legislation, to an area that has seen a multitude of varied approaches over the last several years.