Terminology

If you’re already familiar with traditional estate planning terminology, digital estate planning terminology may not seem like Greek to you. Given the rapidly evolving nature of online technology and the lack of legal certainty surrounding digital estate planning, however, it pays to keep abreast of relevant terminology as it evolves. The following definitions provide a basic introduction to concepts that you will encounter as you begin your estate planning process.

Digital accounts

  • Means, but is not limited to, email accounts, software licenses, social network accounts, social media accounts, file sharing accounts, financial management accounts, domain registration accounts, domain name service accounts, web hosting accounts, tax preparation service accounts, online stores, affiliate programs, other online accounts which currently exist or may exist as technology develops or such comparable items as technology develops.

Definition From Digital Estate Resources, Digital Assets: A Clearer Definition

Digital assets

Given the rapidly evolving nature of online technology and the fact that there is no national legal consensus on this issue, legal scholars have developed different definitions for digital assets, ranging from minimal to pages long. Following are three different definitions that can serve as a starting point for understanding what digital assets are generally:

  • … Files, including but not limited to, emails, documents, images, audio, video, and similar files which currently exist or may exist or as technology develops or such comparable items as technology develops, stored on digital devices, including but no limited to, desktops, laptops, peripherals, storage devices, mobile telephones, smart phones, and any similar digital device which currently exists, or may exist as technology develops or such comparable items as technology develops, regardless of the ownership of the physical device upon which the digital asset is stored.

Definition from Digital Estate Resources, Digital Assets: A Clearer Definition

  • Digital assets are defined widely and not exclusively to include a huge range of intangible information goods associated with the online or digital world: including social network profiles e.g. on Facebook, Twitter, Google + or Linked In; emails, tweets, databases etc; in-game virtual assets (e.g., as bought, found or built in worlds such as Second Life, World of Warcraft, Lineage, etc); digitised text, image, music or sound, such as video, film and e-book files; passwords to various accounts associated with provisions of digital goods and services, either as buyer, user or trader (e.g. to eBay, Amazon, Facebook, YouTube etc); domain names; 2D or 3D personality-related images or icons such as user icons on LiveJournal or avatars in Second Life; and not excluding the myriad types of digital assets emergent as commodities capable of being assigned worth (e.g. “zero day exploits” or bugs in software which antagonists can exploit3).

Definition from page 1 of What Happens to My Facebook Profile When I Die?, by Lilian Edwards and Edina Harbinja.

  • Finally, Samantha D. Haworth proposes a more detailed definition of digital assets, in which such assets fall within one of four different categories:  Access information, tangible digital assets, intangible assets,  and metadata. For Haworth’s proposed definition, see pages 3 to 5 of her paper, Laying Your Online Self to Rest.

Digital death

  • Either the death of a living being and the way it affects the digital world, or the death of a digital object and the way it affects a living being.

Definition from Introduction to Digital Death, by Stacey Pitsillides

Although not a formal legal term, “digital death” is now frequently referred to in the media and in scholarly articles.

Digital executor

A person whom you designate to execute your digital estate.

Definition from Selecting a Digital Executor, on the Digital Beyond website.

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