Broker Check

Digital Assets, Part I

| May 31, 2018

This is Part 1 in a series on Digital Assets, which I hope will be helpful as the things we purchase and memories we store are more and more intertwined with technology.

Part I: What is a Digital Asset, and why should I care?

It has been a few years since the passage of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act Revised (RUFADAA).  What’s remarkable about this is that, for the first time, property law recognizes the existence of digital property as a property right that can be managed, conserved, and, in certain circumstances, accessed by third parties.  This puts digital assets on a more even level with real and tangible property. 

It’s important to note that it is now up to states to adopt this, as property and estate law are state-regulated.  As of March, 2018, 38 states have adopted some form of RUFADAA, including Vermont, while Maine and New Hampshire have introduced bills.  Massachusetts is the only northern New England state that has yet to undertake legislative action in response to the RUFADAA.

A digital asset as defined by RUFADAA is an electronic record in which an individual has a right or interest.  This can include information stored on an individual’s digital devices, content uploaded to websites, and rights in digital property. Digital assets can include accounts, documents, information, records, and photos that are accessible primarily through the user’s electronic device. 

You may be thinking, so what?  Why do I care about this digital property? 

Think about those long “Terms of Service Agreements” most of us never read and just simply click “I Agree” so we can get on with enjoying whatever benefits are offered by the site/software.  Without planning around these assets, the unread agreement can be in the driver’s seat, which will usually end access to the digital asset upon the user’s death.

Many of us are now taking photos exclusively with our smart phones and storing them in the cloud.  What happens if you unexpectedly pass away and your family (a) doesn’t have your log-in info, and (b) the site administrator doesn’t allow access to anyone but the person who opened the account as per their agreement?  Those snapshots of memories may be lost forever.  What about your digital music library that you’ve spent years accumulating?  The following list may help to put the importance of this in a bit more perspective: email, social media, blogs, cryptocurrency, photos and videos posted on sites or stored in the “cloud”, reward programs (hotel, airline, etc.), media subscription accounts (iTunes, Spotify, Netflix, newspapers, magazines, etc.), calendar, contacts, text messages, and documents stored on a device’s hard drive. 

As we look ahead to next month’s blog, you may want to start by taking an inventory of all your digital assets and identify your goal with regard to these assets during your lifetime and afterwards.