According to a study conducted in 2014, about 53 million Americans are classified as freelancers. About 1 in 5 Americans work from home, and that number is expected to increase significantly over the next half decade. Whether you run a small blog that brings in a few dollars of fun money every month or a full-fledged Internet business selling products or services, it's essential that you include your digital assets when doing your estate planning. Here are a few things you need to take into account.
Grant Account Access
Possibly the most important issue you need to prepare for is providing a way for your heirs or estate administrator to access and take control of your online accounts if you become incapacitated or pass away. This includes your social media accounts, Internet payment accounts, blogs, forums, and other digital mediums you use.
Most websites will not give people access to your site unless there is a court order or other legal document granting them the right to do so. Even if your family member has a death certificate, the person may not be able to get to your accounts. Therefore, you must either keep an updated list of usernames and passwords in a safe place for people to use to get into your accounts, or you must add language to your will or power of attorney documents that specifically grants access to those accounts.
If you own an online business with another person in which you have created a digital intellectual property together, such as a game app or blog, it's essential that you decide who gains ownership of that property. For example, if you co-own a blog where you contribute articles about an assortment of topics, you need to determine who owns that content when you pass away.
This can have long-term ramifications for your estate. If ownership of your intellectual property is automatically given to your business partner, that person could conceivably continue making money off your hard work without having to pay money to your estate. This may lead to unwanted legal disputes between your family members and/or business partners, especially when it comes to copyright issues and derivative works.
Provide Clear Instructions
There's a joke often seen in movies and television shows where a character's last words to a friend or family member are to clear the individual's browser history. While this joke is good for a few good chuckles, it highlights the importance of providing clear instructions about what you want people to do with your digital stuff.
If you have a hoard of articles sitting on your hard drive, do you want your family to post them to your blog or continue submitting them to clients on your behalf? Do you want your family to close your social media accounts or keep them up as a virtual testament to your life? Taking time to write down your wishes will make it easier for your loved ones to make decisions regarding your digital afterlife.
For more tips on handling digital assets when doing estate planning, contact an attorney experienced with digital property, such as LeBaron & Jensen, P.C.