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Digital media can complicate passing down inheritance

The use of digital media may save trees, but it can make for a complicated situation when a property owner dies. Most tangible forms of media, such as DVDs, books and compact discs, can be easily passed to heirs after death without complicated legal proceedings. However, because digital property is a relatively new concept, estate law hasn't yet caught up, and the legal procedures for passing down such assets may require help from an estate planning attorney.

Some Polk County residents still buy their media in its physical form, but many others use vendors such as Google and Apple to purchase digital copies instead. Each of these sellers publishes terms of use that accompany the items they sell, and the specifics of the terms can vary considerably. To make matters even more complicated, many people also store their digital files in the "cloud" of a remote server.

Dazza Greenwood, the president of the Internet consulting firm Civics.com, points out that digital media falls into an area of inheritance lawthat remains somewhat unsettled. Broader policies are likely to develop in the future, but confusion and misunderstanding are commonplace at the moment.

Consumers are often under the impression that they are buying movies, e-books and songs, but many of these purchases are non-transferable. Furthermore, content stored in the cloud presents a problem of logistics. While it's easy to transfer files that are stored on a decedent's hard drive, collecting digital media from the cloud is more complicated.

As society becomes more technologically dependent, fewer people will pass away without owning at least some digital media. For people who own large amounts of digital media, transferring the property to heirs without a legal hassle is certainly ideal, but that may not happen without the right planning. An individual can simplify the process as much as possible by working with an estate planning attorney who can evaluate the property's transference rules and add the proper provisions to the individual's estate plan.

Source: CIO Today, "Digital Inheritance Laws Remain Murky," Roger Yu, Sept. 24, 2012

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