On behalf of Charles Wetsel at Teague & Wetsel, PLLC
Increasingly, people in Oklahoma and elsewhere are being advised to take into account their digital assets as part of their estate planning strategy.In a recent article appearing in the Oklahoma Bar Association Magazine entitled “Digital Planning for the Future,” the author wonders how many Oklahoma residents seriously ponder the question of what happens to their digital assets after they pass. Some probably feel that digital assets are worthless. However, digital assets include an array of things such as photographic images, electronic bank and investment account statements and one’s email accounts. In addition, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube social media accounts are types of digital assets. Some people own websites or domain names that are often quite valuable forms of digital assets.
The American Bar Association strongly urges that digital estate planning be given thoughtful consideration in order to prevent on-line identity theft after you pass. Identity theft is a major problem in this nation with millions of people victimized by hackers and scammers each year. Obviously, death robs one of the ability to monitor his or her on-line bank accounts thereby giving criminals a good opportunity to hack those accounts. If you died and your personal representative had no idea that you maintained bank accounts on-line, valuable assets could be lost to thieves before the personal representative discovered the existence of the accounts.
It is increasingly recognized that an individual should have a say in how digital assets are disposed of. In some instances, one may wish to bequeath the digital assets to someone else. On the other hand, some people might prefer that their social media accounts were closed upon their passing in order to protect their privacy. In today’s society, many people tend to overshare on social media. After your death, you might not want family members poking around your digital media accounts to learn more about your on-line persona. Regardless of how a person wants to dispose of his or her digital assets, estate planning can help ensure that a person’s desires are actually carried out.
Oklahoma is one of only six states with a law that provides personal representatives with the power to access and control a decedent’s social media digital assets. Oklahoma law specifically provides that an executor or administrator of an estate has the power to take control of and either continue or terminate any social networking website accounts of the decedent. Personal representatives are also empowered to take control of any microblogging or email service website accounts belonging to the decedent. The law is designed to help personal representatives gain control over the social networking profiles of the deceased.
Many digital accounts are subject to a user agreement which will determine a decedent’s property rights in those accounts. For example, rights to digital content bought on Google Play end upon a person’s death. NewsOK.com quoted a professor at the University of Oklahoma Law School as saying that the Oklahoma digital assets statute would not override the terms of service agreements and would not create any property or contract rights that do not otherwise exist.
If you already have a will in place, but did not take into account your digital assets, it might be a good time to revisit your estate planning goals. An attorney with experience at handling Oklahoma estate planning matters can discuss with you the types of digital assets you have. He or she can then offer you advice on how to protect those assets after you die. Further, an attorney can help you ensure that those digital assets can be accessed only by those persons you intend to permit to do so.