One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get our wills redone. This has been on the resolutions list for years, but with a recent cancer diagnosis for my husband, it took on a bit more urgency. (Jim is being treated and doing well, but this health issue did remind us that neither one of us is going to live forever.)
Given that our wills had last been done on crinkly white paper on a typewriter – and that our mothers, now both long dead, were among the beneficiaries - it was definitely time.
So, early in January, we got new wills done. I even did some research on whether you can inherit frequent flyer miles. (A point which will amuse anyone who knows my husband, who is an avid frequent flyer miles accumulator, and possibly even an FF savant. By the way, while it’s apparently something of a time-consuming nuisance to wrest the decedent’s miles out of the airlines, you can, indeed, inherit them.)
Unless those FF miles count, one thing that neither my husband nor I put any particular thought into was what to do about digital assets.
For one thing, other than his e-mail account and favorites list, Jim doesn’t actually have any. And other than about a half-dozen e-mail accounts, half-arsed Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, a defunct marketing blog, and Pink Slip, I’m not exactly awash in digital assets either. We must be capital-A atypical, because:
According to a survey conducted last year by McAfee, the average US consumer placed a value of $55,000 on their digital assets, which included sentimental items like photos.) (Source: Business Week.)
Since $55K is probably not all that far off from what the average US consumer has in their retirement account, I’d say that placing a value of this magnitude on digital assets is pretty wishful thinking. Tasty as we may imagine it to be, ya just can’t eat sentimental value.
Still, digital assets are going into estate planning, and LegalZoom – which, although we did zoom on our wills once we got around to it, we did not use – is putting it there.
Because, you never know. Suppose you spend a lot of time tilling the soil in FarmVille. And then you’re killed in an accident – say that, inspired by your Mr. Green Jeans time on the virtual farm, you decided to spend a weekend on a real one. And you’re run over by a tractor or eaten alive by a combine or gored by a bull:
… and your three children – all of them equally ambitious virtual farmers – end up in a nasty feud about who deserves ownership rights to your amazing cows and spectacular barns.
Chas Rampenthal is the “in-house counsel and legal life coach at LegalZoom” – now if that’s not a 21st century job title, I don’t know what is – and he thinks about this stuff:
“When you think about these digital assets, they are the types of things that are difficult to pick up and hand to someone,” Rampenthal says. “It’s property that you can’t get your hands on.”
So LegalZoom is making digital asset disposition a part of its basic last will and testament service.
There is, of course, something to be said for including a list of your userids and passwords among your important documents, if only so your executor can get in there and clean things up for you. (Any day now, mine will be in the safe deposit box, along with other important “stuff.”)
But I suspect that most of us don’t have to worry about who gets our World of Warcraft account – at least nobody that I know:
… a World of Warcraft aficionado, for example, might not want his account to go a spouse or child. “Some people take this stuff very seriously,” Rampenthal says. “That person has probably amassed a certain level of strength, and it could make more sense to hand the account to his favorite gamer.”
I decided to go over to LegalZoom and see what else they had to say about digital assets. Well, nothing quite as interesting as raising the question about whether your WoW strength should go to your indifferent spouse or to a gaming pal. But they did say this:
It’s easy to forget that digital assets are just as important as tangible assets. And like real estate or money, it’s important to protect the legacy of digital assets and consider who should maintain control and how. (Source: LegalZoom.)
Well, maybe to some folks, those “digital assets are just as important as tangible assets.” Maybe to the average American who believes theirs are worth $55,000. But personally, I will hold to the belief that my condo is worth more than my blog, that my 401K is worth more than my LinkedIn profile, and – just to prove that I’m not above valuing the sentimental – my grandmother’s cookie jar is worth more than the old AOL e-mail account I use to accumulate junk mail and spam.
But, hey, I’m a tangible native, not a digital native. We do stuff. Maybe someday we won’t say “it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.” Instead it’ll be “it’s not worth the byte of storage it takes up in the cloud.”