Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Jamie P. Hopkins (The American College) recently published an article entitled, Afterlife in the Cloud: Managing a Digital Estate, 5 Hastings Sci. & Tech. L.J. 209 (Summer 2013). Provided below is the introduction to his article:
Astounding technological innovations and widespread access to the internet has ushered in a new lifestyle: the digital life. This new digital lifestyle has resulted in the digitalization of businesses, social lives, and wealth, creating unprecedented legal challenges, and perhaps, more than ever before, reinforcing Benjamin Franklin's eloquently stated notion that “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
With the digitalization of assets and property, estate planning for the digital world has become increasingly complex. Traditionally, transferring property, wealth, and assets from one generation to another has been a fundamental property right and a primary focus of estate planning. However, the growth of the internet, development of digital lifestyles, and digitalization of assets are challenging the effectiveness of traditional estate planning mechanisms. For example, by end of 2012, an estimated thirty-million Facebook profiles will have outlived their owners. These digital legacies are left behind long after people die, begging the question: “What happens to my digital life when I die?”
Section II of this paper discusses the development of the digital life and the digitalization of assets. Section III examines challenges presented by planning for the disposition and management of digital assets. Section IV compares existing estate planning techniques for digital assets, highlighting privacy, security, and efficiency concerns with current strategies. Section V proposes a variety of recommendations in order to reinforce the property, privacy, and estate planning rights of digital asset owners. Lastly, Section VI will conclude the article with a discussion regarding the importance of balancing traditional estate planning methods with digital estate concerns without jeopardizing a deceased's privacy, security, and legacy goals.