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Legal Issues: What to Do with Your Digital Life

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George H. Pike


Legal Issues: What to Do with Your Digital Life


The accumulations of life are taking on a more digital appearance. We have Facebook and Twitter profiles, we post and share pictures and videos through Instragram and YouTube, we have accounts on Amazon and eBay, we may accumulate and spend Bitcoin assets or pay with things with PayPal, we create avatars in WarQuest and other games as well as create and spend digital (even tangible) assets within the games, and we communicate through Gmail and text. Even the accumulations of life that were once analog have gone digital, with bank and investment accounts now accessed through passwords rather than passbooks, our reading is ebooks on our Kindle’s and our music listening is through iTunes. Access to these digital environments is often maintained privately, through userIDs and passwords not generally shared with family and friends who may become heirs and executors.

The established structure of inheritance law has been challenged to deal with many of these aspects of our digital life. Some items seem relatively straightforward, such as online bank and brokerage accounts. Assuming the heir (or more likely, the executor of the estate), knows about the accounts, the established structure of presenting a death certificate or court order to the bank should authorize access. But do the same rules apply to PayPal or bitcoin?

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