5 Digital Assets You'll Take to the Grave | Mylennium

5 Digital Assets You'll Take to the Grave

When it comes to estate planning most people adopt the "I’ll worry about it later" attitude.  After all, when you die your earthly belongings continue to exist and your estate executor can figure out how to deal with the mess.

The phrase "digital assets" covers a range of personal possessions including digital content  stored on personal or online service computing devices, online financial accounts, your social media legacy, digital media (music, video, ebooks), loyalty reward program points, and Web based revenue generating endeavors.

Unfortunately, the online digital world exists under a unique set of commandments etched into a Terms of Service (TOS) agreement that you agree to when you create an account.  Most TOS agreements contain language that establishes the confidentiality of your username/password credentials and whether or not the rights under the agreement can be transferred.

To qualify for this list a service must meet the following criteria:

  • Users are required to keep their login credentials confidential and not divulge them to a third party
  • User rights under the agreement cannot be transferred to another party or individual

With the groundrules in place, here are our top five sites that make it difficult, if not impossible to pass on your digital assets to heirs.

#1 - Yahoo! Mail

273M worldwide, 81m US (2014) Daily Mail

At #1 on our list, Yahoo! is notorious for denying third-party access to a user’s account or content.  As their Terms of Service (7/18/2015) states: "Unfortunately, Yahoo cannot provide passwords or allow access to the deceased's account, including account content such as email.”.  In an oft cited case, it took a court order in 2005 to force Yahoo! to release the email of Justin Ellsworth, a Marine killed in Iraq,  to his father.  If you want to be sure that nobody, including a fiduciary, gets access to your email account or the ability to reset passwords to access other online accounts that use your Yahoo! email address, consider Yahoo! Mail, otherwise a different email service provider may better suit you.

#2 - Google Gmail

900M worldwide, 2015 usatoday.com

At #2 on our list, why isn’t Gmail #1 given their dominance in the Webmail space?  In 2013, Google announced the Inactive Account Manager feature that lets  you share preselected account content with trusted contacts after an extended period of account inactivity.  That said, Google has not yet shared data indicating what percentage of Gmail account holders have actually signed up for the service, and if you haven’t, the digital assets in your account will likely be lost to your family and heirs.  The Google universe includes Gmail, Drive, Youtube, Picasa, Blogger, and +1s so there is a lot to lose forever.

#3 - Facebook

1.44B worldwide, 2015 facebook.com, 156M US, 2015 statista.com

Facebook isn't typically #3 on any list, but their rank reflects that Yahoo! Mail and Gmail play a more central role to online access and email  is a private history of our interactions and collaborations and may contain important personal information.  In 2013 Facebook announced that its 1.15B users were uploading 350 million photos each day.  Over the course of a lifetime an active Facebook user will accumulate an irreplaceable record of their life that has historic and sentimental value to their descendants.  Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (7/18/2015) states: “You will not share your password (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.” and “You will not transfer your account (including any Page or application you administer) to anyone without first getting our written permission.”  Check, and check.

If you want to pass your Facebook legacy and shared posts to heirs, it’s imperative to sign-up for Facebook’s Legacy Contact service.  If you don’t, your Facebook account can turn into an identity thief’s pot of gold.

#4 - Delta SkyMiles

90M - US

If you fly Delta, your miles die with you.  Per Delta’s Delta SkyMiles Program Rules

(7/17/2015): "Restrictions on Transfer: Miles are not the property of any member. Except as specifically authorized in the Membership Guide and Program Rules or otherwise in writing by an officer of Delta, miles may not be sold, attached, seized, levied upon, pledged, or transferred under any circumstances, including, without limitation, by operation of law, upon death, or in connection with any domestic relations dispute and/or legal proceeding."

If you earn a lot of frequent flyer miles, there are other carriers that permit transferring points to a beneficiary.  For more information: Loyalty Reward Program Points

And in a tie for fifth place...

#5a - Apple iTunes

800M - worldwide, 2014 forbes.com

You do not “own” any music or videos that you “purchased” on iTunes.  What you paid for is a personal license to use that content during your lifetime.  Neither your account nor your content can be transferred to another iTunes account.  Enjoy your tunes and videos while you can!

#5b - Amazon Kindle and Music

270M worldwide, 2014 statista.com, 41M US, 2014 iTunes vs Amazon Accounts,

Ditto everything noted above for Apple iTunes.  Your “use” license does not allow transferring licensed content to another user or account.

For more complete information on these domains and many other highly used online providers,  Mylennium provides an online DomainInfo Service that includes key URLs and policies regarding account access, transfer, and inheritance.

And that’s our list of five (ok, six) prominent services that make it difficult, if not impossible,  to pass important digital assets to your heirs.  Remember, you do have a choice and each of these services has competitors that would be happy to have your business and perhaps make it easier to bequeath digital assets in your will or trust.