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Digital Estate Planning: What to Do About iTunes, eBooks?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Digital estate planning is a relatively new concept, and can include a client's websites, email accounts, and the contents of his computers. But what about eBooks, iTunes music files, and other downloaded purchases?

Some downloads can be treated as ordinary assets, if a client obtains the right of ownership with his purchase.

But that's where dealing with iTunes and eBook purchases can get tricky, MarketWatch points out.

Technically (and legally) speaking, an iTunes or Amazon customer doesn't actually own the digital file he downloads -- rather, he owns only a license to use the digital file.

In general, that license cannot be transferred to another user, according to MarketWatch.

Apple's iTunes further limits the number of devices that a digital file can be played on, and limits the number of times you can burn that content onto backup CDs and DVDs.

So what's a digital estate-planning lawyer to do about iTunes and eBooks?

Some lawyers are creating digital trusts for their clients, allowing them to access and use their digital files during their lifetime while arranging for transfer to beneficiaries upon their deaths. But the "licensee" issue may technically prohibit this.

Another lawyer is planning to market a software program he created that sets up a legal trust for digital passwords. But even that lawyer told MarketWatch, "Having access to digital content and having the digital right to use it are two totally different things."

That's why many experts believe changes to intellectual property laws will soon be needed to address digital estate planning for iTunes, eBooks, and other types of downloads. While some states have recently passed laws about inheriting email and social-networking accounts, they have yet to cover digital purchases.

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