Interview: Young Adult With Digital Assets But No Will

September 13, 2012
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Digital assets include more than just your digital photos (Photo credit: TenSafeFrogs via www.flickr.com/photo…)

It has been said that young adults without significant assets do not need a will.  In response, I present an interview with my friend “F”.

F is in her mid-20s.  She has full-time employment and also runs a side photography business.  She is single and childless, but she has a serious boyfriend.  Her divorced parents are alive and well, and each has remarried.  F has a natural sibling and two step-siblings on her father’s side.

Because F figured that her main assets would be distributed through beneficiary designations, she has no will.

F graciously allowed me to share relevant parts of our conversation and my analysis below.  It turns out that her situation is not as simple as she thought.

Other Personal Data

Assets

  • Do you have any bank or investment accounts?  Yes, a payable-on-death bank account.  My mother is the primary beneficiary, and my sibling is second.
  • Do you have a retirement plan or life insurance?  Yes, both through work.
  • Who is the beneficiary?  My mother, and if she doesn’t survive, then my sibling.
  • Do you have any other assets?  Not really, just my personal effects.

Business Information

  • In what form is your side business?  Sole proprietorship.
  • Do you keep the rights to your customers’ pictures or do you just give them to the client?  I keep the rights. I sell prints or limited rights release to digital files.
  • Where are your copies of the pictures stored?  In local hard-drives.
  • Do you have an assessment of what the rights are worth?  No.
  • Who would you want to have the rights in case something happens to you?  My boyfriend.  He knows the most about the business.
  • Does your business have a web presence?  Yes, it has a website, a blog, and a Facebook page.
  • Does anyone besides you have access to any passwords related to your online business accounts?  No.

Incapacity

  • If something happened to you where you become incapacitated, who would take care of your affairs?  I have an advance directive that includes my mother as my healthcare surrogate, and then my boyfriend second.
  • If you became incapacitated, who would take care of your financial affairs?  I guess my boyfriend.
  • Is this formally written anywhere?  No.

Concerns and Analysis

Our friend has done well by executing an advance medical directive and assigning beneficiaries of most her assets.  However, her current setup also creates some unintended consequences.

Current Estate Planning Concerns

  • No Will – Upon F’s demise, her state’s intestacy laws would determine who would get any of her assets that don’t already list a beneficiary.  In most states, F’s divorced parents would each be entitled to half of these unassigned assets.  If neither survives, her sibling would be next in line.  If F’s father dies after her, F’s step-siblings could conceivably receive some portion of her assets.  In any event, F’s boyfriend would be entitled to nothing.
    • F could create a will to distribute unassigned assets as desired.
  • No Financial Power of Attorney – No one is formally assigned to control F’s business and personal finances if she ever becomes incapacitated.  A costly court conservatorship proceeding would likely be needed before either of her parents or her boyfriend could work on her behalf.
    • F could create a financial power of attorney enabling an agent to act on her behalf if necessary.
  • Boyfriend does not stand to receive anything – F’s retirement assets, life insurance, bank accounts, and personal assets are all set to go to her mother or sibling. 
    • F could consider leaving some assets to her boyfriend, especially given the responsibilities he may need to take on.

Concerns Regarding Digital Assets

F’s digital assets include the digital rights to her pictures, website, blog, social media and e-mail accounts, and local hard-drive storage.  Even if these digital assets have limited to no financial value, F should still plan to preserve them as if they had sentimental value to her family, boyfriend, clients, and friends.

  • Business assets go to divorced, technically-challenged parents – F’s main unassigned asset is her pictures and their digital rights.  Because there is no will and the business is a sole proprietorship, F’s divorced parents would inherit the assets.  They would be left with the task of splitting the pictures and rights between themselves without any guidance.  F’s parents may also need to work together to assess the value of the pictures and rights, negotiate their sale, and report any resulting income.  Again, F’s boyfriend would technically have no say regarding any of this, even though he probably knows the most about it.
    • F could consider naming her boyfriend as beneficiary of the business assets and/or executor of the will.
  • No one besides F has password access to her digital assets – If F becomes incapacitated or dies, she has not given anyone the ability to close out her business and personal online accounts, including her email accounts.  Accessing her local hard-drives could also become problematic.  This could result in unnecessary charges by the providers against F’s estate.  Additionally, if no one acts quickly, F’s online accounts could also be erased shortly after her death.
    • F should keep a list of passwords hidden yet available and also name a “digital representative” to legally use them to control her digital assets when necessary.

Final Thoughts

Filling the gaps in F’s estate plan would go a long way towards assuring that her wishes and intentions would be met in case of the unfathomable.  Implementing the above suggestions would be straightforward, relatively inexpensive and not very time consuming for her.

F represents a fine example of how our net worth is not the sole determinant of whether a will is necessary.  Regardless of our age or station in life, we should never discount our legacy and the impact we have on our loved ones.

 Interview: Young Adult With Digital Assets But No Will
 Interview: Young Adult With Digital Assets But No Will

Scott

Scott R. Zucker, Esq. is the owner of The Zucker Law Firm PLLC, located just outside the Capital Beltway in Annandale, within five miles of the City of Fairfax, the county seat of beautiful Fairfax County, Virginia. The firm focuses mainly on estate planning services for Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania clientele, and seeks to do so in an affordable and approachable way. People interested in learning more can contact Scott by phone or email.

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