What Do We Truly "Own" Digitally?
In the physical world, we own things that are tangible. We build our lives around our possessions -- most of the time. Homes, cars, and money are tangible things we can touch and see.
But in the digital world, we still live our "online lives". We think we own a lot of these things, or we don't even question whether we do at all.
When we’re building our social media followings, we’re adding pictures, carefully creating well-thought-out posts, and writing comments on other users’ posts. The same goes for when we purchase in-game virtual goods.
But do we truly own those words and images–intellectual property (IP)—that we share on social? Do we actually own those in-game purchases? What about cryptocurrency? NFTs?
With Blockchain, we now know more clearly what we own in a digital sense, and that may change how we pass along wealth. This works a lot like wills and trusts for physical goods. Blockchain may not just revolutionize what we own while we’re alive, but what we may be able to pass along.
So, how do we pass along this digital wealth?
What is Blockchain?
To understand digital ownership, it’s important to understand blockchain first. For this, think of a ledger. A ledger is a book that collects and records transactions, right?
Well, a blockchain is a digital ledger. It stores all types of data and transactions, such as cryptocurrency transactions, non-fungible token (NFT) ownership, and eventually, in-app purchases.
Blockchains are immutable. This means that once it stores data, no one can change or delete that data. A blockchain is a system that you can add to, not take away from.
How Blockchain and Other Technologies Will Change How We Pass Along Digital Wealth
When you build wealth, your assets are pretty tangible: cash, investments, property, cars, jewelry, art. But digital assets are different. While it might be simple to leave your physical assets to a beneficiary in case of an emergency or death, it’s not as easy with digital assets.
Only a few consumers have someone they share all of their passwords and account details with. So are we ready to pass along digital wealth? Or will our virtual goods be stuck in the digital ether?
So many people who purchased Bitcoin would be millionaires today if they hadn’t lost access to their hard drive or key. The same can happen if you pass away, and don’t let people you trust know you have digital assets, or have a trusted system that can help handle this for you.
When someone dies, they have a will that dictates where their assets will go. And if they don’t have a will, the government dictates how to divide their assets. Because banks are beholden to court orders, in the worst case scenario, money can still be moved around.
An executor can still get access to those funds by providing the will and/or death certificate to financial institutions.
The big issue with wills and trusts is that they don’t properly cater to digital assets. They don’t allow you to have an up-to-date assets list (as these change frequently, and you typically edit your will only a couple of times during your lifetime) – or even your passwords, or asset keys?
Knowing the digital assets exist is one thing, but having them managed, transferred, and accessible to your “beneficiaries” or “inner circle” after death is another issue entirely.
So if you’ve invested in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum or secured NFTs, or have even spent a lifetime building up your in-game assets and status - then you may be wondering how you can pass along this wealth.
Many digital assets aren’t clearly legally defined as a monetary asset, capital asset, or anything in between. There is still a lot to be done around the legal infrastructure to help define this and to help figure out how wealth can be transferred. The question of whether or not content and intellectual property online can even be transferred is also quite salient.
However - the answer isn’t simple. But it can be beneficial to work with a company that helps you figure out what happens to your digital "estate" after you die. This includes your social media, crypto, NFT's, and in-game currency. Working with a company that helps people manage life after death can also help shed light on other issues like Section 230 and other laws that dictate who owns the IP of images and text – when the appropriate laws are eventually passed – and allowing these companies to help fight for the right interpretation for you.
So while blockchain may be the “savior” to managing digital property, a company that helps with digital estate planning can answer the burning question, “What happens to my digital assets when I die?”